Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO announces retirement plans

Li-Cunxin-AO-courtesy-of-Queensland-BalletAfter 11 years at the helm, Queensland Ballet Artistic Director, Li Cunxin AO has announced his plans to retire due to ill health. Li has been troubled by serious health concerns since 2022 and is having to step away to prioritise his recovery.

Queensland Ballet Chair of the Board, Brett Clark made the announcement to staff and company dancers earlier today (Tuesday 20 June). “I want to acknowledge and congratulate Li for his selfless, generous and visionary service to Queensland Ballet over the past 11 years,” he said.

“When I think about what Li Cunxin has achieved in life, for his family in China, for his family around the world, for ballet, for Queensland, for Queensland Ballet, it is nothing short of sensational. Where words elude us, actions might save us. Over the next few months, we plan to celebrate Li and acknowledge his sensational contribution.”

“Li has been transformational, and his legacy for Queensland Ballet almost defies words, but we’ll do our very best to express our gratitude between now and the last performance of 2023’s season of The Nutcracker,” said Mr Clark.

After commencing in the role in 2012, Mr Li stood on the shoulders of all those who have gone before him and took Queensland Ballet to even greater heights. Among his achievements:

  • A world-class ensemble of 48 dancers – double what he came to.
  • A world-class young artists program of 12 dancers – the Jette Parker Young Artists Program
  • A world-stage repertoire including works usually reserved for leading lights such as The Royal Ballet, co-productions with peer companies around the world and exciting new commissions.
  • A world-class Academy in its standalone, dedicated home at Kelvin Grove State College
  • A world-class Thomas Dixon Centre, home to Queensland Ballet, second home to our Academy and a cultural hub and destination for people of all ages and abilities
  • The foundations for a world-class Production facility, the Roy and Nola Thompson Production Centre at Yatala, Gold Coast
  • A growing Health and Community program, delivering real impact across the State
  • A stable culture of giving through corporate partnerships and visionary donors
  • A far-reaching touring commitment across Queensland, Australia and international waters

Queensland Ballet provides employment to more than 200 workers, including 140 behind-the-scenes staff, from production crews, to costumiers, wig makers, teaching artists and business staff.

Reflecting on his last 11 years as Artistic Director, Mr Li says the growth of the Company and its impact in terms of jobs, audiences, participation, and impact are a result of the hard work and passion of the entire team at Queensland Ballet.

“I’m incredibly grateful to have been surrounded by a contagious energy, an unbreakable spirit of dancers, creatives and of course, all of our dedicated supporters,” said Mr Li.

With unwavering dedication to the job Mr Li recently experienced serious health complications which necessitated a leave of absence and informed his decision to retire for the purposes of recuperation. .

“There is still so much I still want to achieve with the team, but I need to take some space to recover and spend time with family,” said Mr Li. “I am tremendously proud of the company I see before me today.

“Queensland Ballet stands proudly on the world stage in performance, pathways and participation. I will never be far away but as I take this time and the organisation continues to thrive, I know I am leaving the company in a strong position.”

“While I am very proud of the company’s growth, the major projects we have undertaken and the dreams we have fulfilled, , I’m mostly proud of the fact that Queensland Ballet is completely set up for success. Our foundations are stronger than ever and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy,” said Mr Li.

He said the past eleven years represents one of the most rewarding chapters of his life. “This journey has enriched my life beyond measure and offered me so much fulfilment and joy,” he said.

“From the moments of success to the periods of challenge and uncertainty that have dared me to dream fearlessly, it has been an incredible opportunity to each day make a difference to the arts in Queensland and the nation, and I’ll miss it all terribly,” explains Mr Li.

“I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have believed in my vision over the past 11 years. Our government stakeholders, our visionary donors, our corporate partners, our audiences throughout Queensland, Australia and the world, our students and all those who have participated in our community programs.”

Thank you for believing in my vision. I have been but a guardian of our ballet company these past 11 years.  Keep believing in Queensland Ballet as our company moves forward into exciting times,” said Mr Li.

The news has prompted accolades from artistic circles around the world by those wishing to publicly acknowledge Mr Li’s contribution to ballet over the years.

Director of The Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare praised Mr Li for his strong leadership qualities. “Over the last decade and more, Li Cunxin has transformed the Queensland Ballet into a world-class company with a vibrant repertoire and brilliant ensemble of dancers,” he said.

“With his passion, artistic integrity and fearless energy, he has been a powerfully positive advocate for ballet in Australia and a dynamic force for dance worldwide. I have long admired Li – first as a dancer, of course, and then as an artistic director who has led his company with zeal, commitment and compassion to such great heights.”

“It is a bittersweet moment that he has decided to step down for personal reasons, but his legacy is there for everyone to see with every performance the Queensland Ballet continues to give,” said Mr O’Hare.

“It has been wonderful to watch the development of the Queensland Ballet under the Direction of Li Cunxin and his wife Mary,” said Lady Deborah MacMillan of the MacMillan Estate. Queensland Ballet has presented two full lengths [ballet’s] by Kenneth and several 1 Acts, and each time the performances have been of a superb standard.

“Not just the dancers and the quality of their dancing, and their passionate approach to their work; but everyone associated with the company seems inspired by the leadership. If only all ballet companies were the same,” said Mrs MacMillan.

“Li Cunxin’s impact on the creative landscape of Australia will be felt for years to come,” said Australian Film Director Baz Luhrmann and his wife Catherine Martin. “His decade at the helm of Queensland Ballet exemplifies the world class arts and culture that has transformed our region into one of the most exciting places globally today.”

“Li has always had one eye on tradition and the other very much on the future. Though personal reasons have compelled him to prioritize his health at this time, I know he’ll continue keep a keen eye on helping the next generation of ballet in Australia to flourish with the same global vivacity that has been the hallmark of his tenure.”

“In our four years of living and making our own work in Queensland, it has been a privilege to count Li and Mary as creative compatriots and friends,” they said.

“Over the past 11 years, Li has made Queensland Ballet a company that Australians have great pride in,” said Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, David Hallberg. “From his choice of resident choreographers, to his guest teachers, and lastly the incomparable Thomas Dixon Centre, his ambition paid off through the result of quality on stage and behind the scenes.

“I applaud Li, Mary and their entire team for representing the best that ballet is in Australia and for being a true friend and collaborator. My utmost congratulations to what he has accomplished,”  said Mr Hallberg.

A website has been established for people wishing to leave their messages of support: www.celebratingli.com.au

Li’s wife, Mary, has had her own health battles over the past year, she will join Li in retirement at the end of the year from her role as Ballet Mistress and Principal Repetiteur.

“We are thankful that they are putting their health at the centre of this joint decision. We wish Mary well in her recovery and look forward to seeing her back in our studios as a guest repetiteur next year and for years to come” Mr Clark said.

Today marks the start of a series of celebration to acknowledge the contribution of Li Cunxin AO. He will formally step down as Artistic Director following the completion of the 2023 Season. A global search for his successor, Queensland Ballet’s sixth artistic director will be underway shortly.

For more information about the Queensland Ballet, visit: www.queenslandballet.com.au for details.

Image: Li Cunxin AO – courtesy of Queensland Ballet