Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin

Li Cunxin Sleeping Beauty 1983 - photo courtesy of Houston BalletExploring the incredible life of the internationally renowned ballet icon, Li Cunxin, Melbourne’s Immigration Museum presents Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin – currently on display until 7 October 2018.

Taking viewers on an inspiring incredible journey, visitors to the exhibition will gain insight into Li Cunxin’s poverty-stricken childhood in rural China, his extraordinary journey to become an internationally renowned dancer, and his current life in Brisbane, where he is Artistic Director of the prestigious Queensland Ballet.

Leaving Brisbane for the first time, the Museum of Brisbane’s world first exhibition transports visitors into Li’s unbelievable story. It does so through costumes, photography, audio visual content, awards and other personal items, shared by Li Cunxin from his own archives. Experienced together, these deeply personal items paint an intimate and inspirational picture.

This story is one of fortune, grit, bravery, and beauty. Highlights include an exclusive interview with Li Cunxin’s parents, costumes from the Houston Ballet’s 1990 production of Romeo & Juliet; costumes from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Don Quixote (Australian Ballet) and La Esmeralda (Queensland Ballet); and a series of kites, handmade by Li for the exhibition. 

Also included in the exhibition is personal items from Li Cunxin’s archives, and the archives of those who have been around him over the years, including photo albums, letters, phone messages from Charles Foster; beautiful reflections of Li as a dancer and her first love from his ex-wife; a letter from Barbara Bush; and a video of Ben Stevenson (former Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet).

“I have enjoyed contacting old friends and searching through my own keepsakes and files to find the artefacts and papers that will make Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin a unique experience,” says Li Cunxin on the curation of the exhibition.

Li Cunxin is truly a global citizen. Having left China in his teens, and performed throughout his career as Principal Artist with both the prestigious Houston Ballet and The Australian Ballet companies, Li has danced all over the world. His moniker Mao’s Last Dancer is recognisable globally, thanks to his best-selling autobiography and its eponymous 2009 feature film adaptation. 

Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin also honours the important contribution of those who assisted Li in forging his stunning career, and building a new life outside of China. “Many extraordinary people in China, the United States and Australia made my story possible,” said Li Cunxin. “I continue to be inspired by their generosity and friendship and am delighted that this exhibition introduces them to Australian audiences.”

These themes complement the commitment of the Immigration Museum to promoting cultural diversity by showcasing and celebrating the moving and powerful stories of individuals who, for many different reasons, have beaten the odds, or gone to extreme measures to find a place to call home. 

Li’s personal story powerfully underscores the pivotal impact that he has had on the lives of others, both within and outside of the dance community. He continues to act as an arts advocate, community leader, and mentor. 

Museums Victoria CEO, Lynley Marshall, a great admirer  of Li Cunxin and his work, feels a particular connection to the project. “We are so very excited to announce this stunning exhibition, and are honoured to be presenting Li’s story within the fitting walls of Melbourne’s Immigration Museum,” said Ms Marshall. “It has been our delight to work with the Museum of Brisbane on the touring debut of this world-class exhibition.”

A truly moving exhibition celebrating the life and work of a remarkable man, Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin will fascinate and delight not only fans of ballet, but all those intrigued by the strength of the human spirit, and the power of artistic will. It celebrates the vibrant and vital contributions that international citizens like Li Cunxin have made to contemporary cultural Australia. 

Melbourne will play host to a breathtaking series of ballet works this winter, including one from the Queensland Ballet (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), of which Li Cunxin is Artistic Director. Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin provides the perfect accompaniment. 

Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin
Immigration Museum, 400 Flinders St, Melbourne
Exhibition continues to 7 October 2018
Free entry (after Museum admission)

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Li Cunxin in Sleeping Beauty (1983) – photo courtesy of Houston Ballet