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Mao's Last Dancer Li Cunxin and ballerina wife reunite on stage

12/9/17: Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin, with his wife Mary McKendry, at QPAC, South Brisbane. Cunxin will be on stage with his wife for the first time in 26 years, next year in The Nutcracker. Lyndon Mechielsen/The Austrtalian
12/9/17: Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin, with his wife Mary McKendry, at QPAC, South Brisbane. Cunxin will be on stage with his wife for the first time in 26 years, next year in The Nutcracker. Lyndon Mechielsen/The Austrtalian Lyndon Mechielsen ROK130917balle

THEY last performed together in 1991, but for the first time in 26 years the ballet star known as Mao's Last Dancer and his wife will take centre stage.

The couple will perform in the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, for one night only in Brisbane.

It's the same ballet where they last danced together in Houston in 1991.

Mary Li (nee McKendry) grew up in Rockhampton and trained as a young dancer with the late Valeria Hanson.

The Rockhampton Girls Grammar School student was accepted into the Royal Ballet School in London at 17.

Former Rockhampton resident Mary McKendry on stage with now husband Li Cunxin - the man behind the inspirational true story of Mao's Last Dancer.
Former Rockhampton resident Mary McKendry on stage with now husband Li Cunxin - the man behind the inspirational true story of Mao's Last Dancer. contributed

Mary went on to dance professional with the English National Ballet and starred in guest roles with international companies, including the Houston Ballet where she met Li Cunxin.

Li was already an internationally renowned dancer when his 2003 memoir, Mao's Last Dancer, was adapted to a Hollywood film making him a household name.

Mary returned to Rockhampton in 2012 where Li spoke at the school's graduation ceremony.

She retired in the early 1990s when it was discovered their then 18-month-old daughter Sophie was profoundly deaf.

Ballerina, Mary McKendry is home in Rockhampton this weekend with her husband, Li Cunxin, better known as Mao's Last Dancer
Ballerina, Mary McKendry is home in Rockhampton this weekend with her husband, Li Cunxin, better known as Mao's Last Dancer Christine McKee

Since then, Mary has also passed on her skills to young professional dancers as a ballet mistress with the Queensland Ballet.

After Li retired he became a stockbroker, but took on the role of artistic director at the Queensland Ballet in 2012.

Li, 56, this week announced they would make their stage comeback for one night only on December 10.

He revealed he would play Uncle Drosselmeyer during the unveiling of the Queensland Ballet's 2018 season.

"Ever since my retirement 18 years ago there have been some tempting offers trying to lure me back on stage,” Li said.

"The offers have come nationally and internationally but I have knocked them back one by one, until now.”

Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin helping out young dancer Lucy Rayner. Contributed
Queensland Ballet artistic director Li Cunxin helping out young dancer Lucy Rayner. Contributed Contributed

Li said he was convinced to come out of retirement by Suncorp, the company's principal partner and sponsor of the annual Suncorp Wish Upon Ballet Star competition.

This year's winner will get to dance with Li in the special performance.

Although Li and Mary will perform at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane, the Queensland Ballet will bring box office hit Swan Lake to Rockhampton, Mackay, Toowoomba, Maryborough and Cairns in June and July.

Queensland Ballet brings Giselle to the Brolga Theatre -  lead ballerinas and Artistic Director, Li Cunxin.
Photo: Valerie Horton / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Queensland Ballet brings Giselle to the Brolga Theatre - lead ballerinas and Artistic Director, Li Cunxin. Photo: Valerie Horton / Fraser Coast Chronicle Valerie Horton

Li's career will also be showcased at the Museum of Brisbane at City Hall later this year.

Mao's Last Dancer The Exhibition: A Portrait of Li Cunxin will run from December 1 until April 29, 2018.

Tickets for the December 10 performance go on sale 9am, September 25.

Topics:  arts ballet dance li cunxin mao's last dancer queensland ballet whatson



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