It’s my absolute pleasure to bring the Balanced Ballerinas community a beautiful story rich in Australian culture and ballet royalty today!
Mary Li was raised in Rockhampton, Queensland amongst the chaos of seven other siblings. Her parents sounded phenomenal, loving and down-to-earth. The perfect recipe for supportive parents of a budding young ballerina.
From the humble beginnings of a little ballet studio run by Ms Hansen in Rocky to the Royal Ballet School in London and Christmas’s spent at Covent Garden, Mary went on to tour all around the world world with London Festival Ballet before taking a position with Houston Ballet, that subsequently led to meeting the love of her life.
Many of us know the story of Li Cunxin (current Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet), author of Mao’s Last Dancer. But few of us know the story of Mary and the incredible sacrifice she made for love, for family and for their daughter Sophie.
Mary’s Last Dance is the title of this very story and hit bookshelves last week. Mary’s memoir is an insight into her wonderful Australian childhood, dazzling career as a Principal dancer performing every lead role imaginable, touring with Rudolf Nureyev and being coached by Margot Fonteyn.
As you’ll hear, I was incredibly nervous going into this interview. I was interviewing Mary the day after her book came out and her publisher had sent me a digital copy a week prior. Amidst the concert season I currently find myself, I hurriedly consumed the pages to prepare for our interview.
Whilst inhaling the pages of her book, I learned just how incredible Mary’s career was. This made me nervous. I was about to interview ballet royalty. Then on the day of our interview Mary was watching me set up my podcast equipment when I asked if she’d done many interview yet for the book release to which she replied, “Yes! I’ve just finished an interview with Sarah Kanowski for ABC’s Conversations!” I almost died. I was interviewing Mary right after one of Australia’s top interviewers… no pressure!
Nerves aside, I have to be honest. I absolutely LOVED this book. I knew I’d enjoy it, but I was expecting to absolutely love it. I didn’t expect to feel as emotionally swept up by the pages as I did.
Whilst the glitz and glamour of Mary’s life as a professional ballerina is fascinating, I actually loved the whole heartedness of her Dad waking her up for rehearsals as a young girl, her Mum helping her purchase a Winter coat in preparation for a life in London and the references to ‘tallie’ beers, Hills Hoists and barbecued prawns shone through for me.
Maybe it’s the fact I turned thirty this year. Maybe it’s the state of the world we currently live in. Maybe it’s the trauma we’re collectively feeling as a result of this world pandemic that’s making me so nostalgic and sentimental for the small things in life. But Mary’s story is another reminder about what’s really important in life; family, friendship and love.
A beautiful story. A beautiful reminder about how incredible this country I live in is. An extraordinary woman. After our interview I half expected Mary to quickly get up and go about her busy day, but instead she instantly turned the tables on me – asking questions about my own ballet journey, the podcast, our community and my ambitions.
I’m sure you’ll enjoy this conversation as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you. And as always you can connect with me on Instagram @thebalancedballerina or even better hit that green button on Spotify!
Grit & Grace,