Li Cunxin to step away from Queensland Ballet after 11 years at the helm

Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO. Photo by Christian Aas.
Queensland Ballet Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO. Photo by Christian Aas.

After 11 years at the helm of Queensland Ballet, Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO has announced his decision to retire at the end of the 2023 Season to focus on his health.

Following a long and illustrious career, Li became the fifth artistic director of Queensland Ballet in 2012. His bold, daring vision and devotion to artistic excellence has taken the Company to new heights, catapulting Queensland Ballet into the international spotlight.

Li has dealt with serious health concerns since 2022, and Queensland Ballet recently confirmed he had been diagnosed with a heart condition. His wife, Mary, who has worked alongside Li as a ballet mistress and répétiteur, has also been battling cancer.

“We will stay until the end of the year,” Li told journalist Phil Brown in an exclusive interview for InQueensland. “In an ideal world, I would have loved to have seen out my contract which goes until 2025. But we don’t live in that ideal world. So, this is what has been imposed on us by our health. Now we will put our health and family first.”

He added, “It has been a wonderful and exciting journey over 11 years. It has flown by quickly but it has been so much fun. We just threw ourselves into it and we have loved every minute.”

Known to the world as ‘Mao’s Last Dancer,’ Li’s extraordinary story of courage and determination, from bitter poverty to the stages of the world, has inspired countless individuals across the globe.

“Li, you have left an indelible mark on us all,” Queensland Ballet said in a reel dedicated to Li. “Your passion, perseverance, vision, courage and hard work will remain deeply engrained in all that we do for decades to come. Thank you for all that you have brought to Queensland Ballet, today and tomorrow.”

“This journey has enriched my life beyond measure and offered me so much fulfilment and joy,” Li told InQueensland. “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.”

The Company is looking forward to “Celebrating Li” over the coming months and invites all fans and audience members to leave a message for Li here, to show their gratitude for all of his work. These messages will also be broadcast at Queensland Ballet’s Celebrating Li performances on 12 and 13 December.

To read more on Li’s legacy, visit

To Top