Memoir from Australian Ballerina Mary Li
Sequel to Her Husband’s Bestselling ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’
Mary’s Last Dance, the highly anticipated memoir of Australian ballerina Mary Li – and the long-awaited sequel to her husband Li Cunxin’s bestselling memoir, Mao’s Last Dancer, will be released on November 3 by Viking Books.
Mary McKendry had an idyllic childhood: a rambunctious family full of love and support, in a large Queensland country town, Rockhampton. Here she discovered the joy and beauty of ballet, an art in which she very quickly found herself at home. Mary’s dedication and persistence in excelling shone, opening a world of possibility. At the age of just 16, she flew halfway around the world to start a life in London, studying at the Royal Ballet School. Mary’s talent saw her join the London Festival Ballet, where she danced with the likes of Rudolf Nureyev, and then moved on to Houston Ballet, dancing under acclaimed director Ben Stevenson. Here she met Chinese dancer Li Cunxin: their chemistry ignited the stage, and off stage the two fell in love, becoming darlings of the ballet world.
The follow up to the international bestseller, about her husband, Mary’s Last Dance picks up where Mao’s Last Dancer left off, continuing the story of Mary, Li, and their formidable family. Mao’s Last Dancer was a bestselling book which, in Australia, sold half a million copies across various editions, and was turned into an acclaimed film.
When their first daughter, Sophie, was born, their lives were complete. Mary and Li doted on their precious daughter, and revelled in their fortune at having Li’s parents live with them to care for her while they were dancing. On her first birthday they started to notice Sophie wasn’t as responsive to noises as she should have been. One doctor cleared her of hearing problems – twice – but still, they noticed a difference when compared to other children. Their fears were confirmed when, at 18 months of age, Sophie was pronounced profoundly deaf. She would never hear the music her parents performed to, would never learn Mandarin to communicate with her beloved grandparents, or hear her parents speak to her. It was unlikely Mary and Li would ever hear their daughter’s voice.
After being told bluntly by a specialist, If you both want to continue your careers, then she [Sophie] probably won’t learn to speak, Mary stepped out of the spotlight to focus on her daughter, determined that one day the two of them would have a conversation together. While Mary grieved for her daughter, and for the career she put aside, her sole goal in life was for Sophie to have her own voice. They made the heartbreaking decision for Li’s parents to return to China, so the dual languages at home wouldn’t confuse Sophie. Mary and Sophie had to create a new relationship, different from what Mary had ever imagined.
Mary and Sophie spent years working together to give Sophie a voice. Through hearing aids, hours upon hours of daily speech therapy and fighting for a cochlear implant, all their efforts paid off when a sweet little voice sung along to Rain, Rain Go Away for the first time. It took further years and specialist schools, but Mary achieved her goal: she and Sophie were able to have a verbal conversation together.
Mary’s Last Dance is just as much Sophie’s story as it is Mary’s: Sophie has written her story, interwoven with her mother’s world. We are offered an insight into Sophie’s mind, her frustrations and her feelings of not fitting into the Deaf world – due to her lack of knowledge of Australian Sign Language (Auslan) – nor the hearing world. However, Sophie’s determination mirrors that of her mother – she learned Auslan, just as she learned Mandarin as a teenager.
Mary’s Last Dance, is, above all else is a story of love; a love of art, a love of family, and the unbreakable love of a parent for her child.
Reconnecting with ballet after dedicating herself to raising their three children, Mary began to teach ballet at a small studio in Melbourne, and was then offered a teaching and coaching position with Australian Ballet. Today she is Ballet Mistress and Principle Repetiteur at Queensland Ballet, along with Li, who is Artistic Director.