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

An intimate portrait of a contemporary Australian icon.

Born into bitter poverty during the height of Mao’s Communist China, Li Cunxin grew up in a world few of us can imagine. Through a chance of fate, at age 11 he was selected to attend Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy—a rare opportunity to escape his humble, rural existence.  Despite the Academy’s punishing training regime, with perseverance and the love of his family driving him to success, Li became one of China’s most celebrated dancers. After becoming one of China’s first cultural exchange students, Li made worldwide headlines in 1981 when he fell in love with an American dancer and decided he wanted to stay in the United States. With his Chinese citizenship revoked and unable to return to his home country, he danced with the Houston Ballet for 16 years. He enjoyed international success, which continued when he joined the Australian Ballet as a principal artist in 1995.

Today Li lives in Brisbane with his wife and children, where he is Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet. His story of resilience and determination continues, influenced by his passion for dance and strong family values.

The inspiring story of Li Cunxin has been translated into a best-selling novel and award-winning film. This world-first exhibition was an opportunity for audiences to intimately discover both his moving personal narrative and his remarkable artistic achievements. The exhibition also brought audiences up to date with Li’s life in Brisbane and the extraordinary impact he continues to have on the lives of so many within and outside the dance community.

Featuring never-before-seen interviews of Li’s family and colleagues from the ballet world, original objects and documents from Li’s personal archives, and footage of Li at the height of his career.

A first for the Museum of Brisbane, Mao’s Last Dancer the Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin toured to Melbourne, opening at the Immigration Museum, Melbourne on 16 June 2018.

Witness what went into the installation of this exclusive exhibition.
Take a behind the scenes look at our team’s preparation of the costumes for this exhibition.


  • St Baker Energy Innovation Fund
    Exhibition Partner
  • JCDecaux
    Supporting Partner
  • Media Partner
  • Accomodation Partner

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