Morning Tea to launch ‘Mary’s Last Dance’ by Mary Li
Speech delivered by Mrs Kaye de Jersey: 25th Governor-General and 24th Queensland Governor, Dame Quentin Bryce; our author, in whose honour we gather, Mrs Mary Li and Mr Li Cunxin; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to welcome you all here this morning to celebrate the launch of Mary Li’s memoir, ‘Mary’s Last Dance’.
Readers around the world have been waiting for 17 years for this sequel to the extraordinary memoir of Li Cunxin’s journey from peasant boy to international ballet star.
That story, ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’, captivated us all when it was released in 2003, and Bruce Beresford’s film, six years later, took Li’s story to new audiences.
But throughout that time there has been another, parallel story to be told.
I am delighted that, in writing her own memoir, Mary has given us not only the story of her own career, but an insight into the Lis’ remarkable partnership in both dance and life.
As the title suggests, the story pivots on the critical decision Mary made back in 1992, at the peak of her career, to stop dancing and devote her life and energies to their profoundly deaf 18-month-old daughter.
The experience of giving up a career to raise children is familiar to many women, but what makes Mary’s story so inspiring is not just the extent of her sacrifice, or the particular challenges of raising a deaf child, but her perseverance and determination to succeed.
It’s clear that Mary first developed that grit as one of the eight high-spirited children in the McKendry family in Rockhampton. It’s also clear that it was nurtured by Valeria Hansen, the gifted Rockhampton dance teacher who saw in Mary both talent and a strong drive to succeed.
It was that passion that saw her go to London at the age of 16 to further her dance training and rise to the level of principal dancer within just six years.
It was that same dedication that saw her continue her career with Houston Ballet, working with many of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers.
It really should come as no surprise, then, that after that memorable last dance in 1992, Mary found fresh purpose in caring for their daughter and, later, their other two children.
Equally, we should perhaps have expected that she would also excel in her most recent career as a teacher, coach and mentor, particularly over the past eight years, working alongside her husband at Queensland Ballet.
And now, she has added ‘author’ to her achievements.
As a former librarian, I always welcome the opportunity to support writers, especially Queensland writers, so it is with great pride that I now officially launch ‘Mary’s Last Dance’ and wish Mary and the publishers every success.