An inspirational figure in dance lured out of retirement for a new leadership role.

Li Cunxin, the man known internationally as Mao’s Last Dancer, has been appointed the new artistic director of the Queensland Ballet.

The addition of Li, whose best-selling autobiography was adapted into a feature film by Australian director Bruce Beresford, is a major coup for the Brisbane-based company and is expected to attract new audiences.

Although the 52-year-old left almost three decades of ballet behind him in 1999 to pursue career opportunities as a stockbroker and a stint as a motivational speaker (the latter should come in handy for QB’s fundraising effords), he said the prospect of returning to the artform in a leadership role lured him out of retirement. “I’ve never lost my passion for dance, and I’m excited to start a new journey.

“It’s also a homecoming of sorts – my wife Mary McKendry is from Queensland and we’re looking forward to making it our home.”

Li’s life story is widely known – even outside the rarefied world of dance – thanks to his award-winning autobiography  Mao’s Last Dancer.Born in poverty in rural China, he was hand-picked at the age of 11 to study at Madame...