Queensland Ballet is back, bringing joy with live performances again. The season opens with a bang - the 60th Anniversary Gala. And it finishes with the perennial favourite The Nutcracker. With nine productions this year, there is certainly something for all dance tastes. Li Cunxin AO is Artistic Director at QB (The whole world knows him as Mao's Last Dancer from his book, film and exhibition). He said how proud and humbled he is to be working with one of the few dance companies in the world performing once again to a live theatre audience. If you have never been to the ballet before, then now is your chance to see dancers from a world-leading company.
I was privileged to have an exclusive interview with a rising star of Queensland Ballet (QB): Laura Tosar. When we met up for coffee, she was unadorned, wearing no makeup, her hair in a ponytail, wearing casual clothes. She looked like many other young fresh-faced women around the city. But when she has stage make-up applied, plus a wig and glamourous costumes, she is a beautiful ballerina.
This impressive young woman has been speaking English for only 5 years since she moved to Brisbane and she is fluent with our Aussie accent and just a hint of her Native Spanish. She is also fluent in French and is learning Russian – her mother's mother tongue.
Laura Tosar and Kieren Bofinger - Photographer David Kelly (courtesy of QB)
She was spotted at the renowned Cuban National Ballet School in Havana by Li Cunxin AO when she was 17. She had auditioned and was accepted full-time to the school when she was just 8 years old. Only 40 girls were selected from hundreds of hopefuls. She survived the grueling regime of 7am to 5pm, many tests and further strict auditions. By the time she reached Year 12, her cohort had greatly reduced. She was among the crème de la crème of aspiring dancers.
Little Mermaid - photographer David Kelly (courtesy of QB)
She was lost for words when she tried to describe how thrilled she was to meet Li Cunxin AO, as he was her hero. She had watched the film Mao's Last Dancer many, many times throughout her childhood – subtitled in Spanish. Then to be invited to far off Australia to learn under him was beyond her hopes. I was struck by the many parallels between Laura's and LI's stories: recognised and singled out early at school for their potential, given a unique opportunity, encouraged by family but heartbroken to leave them behind, recognition of the importance of education and hard work, working with master ballet teachers, and travelling the world via dance.
QB Artistic Director Li Cunxin AO (May Cross)
Li had danced in Houston with Cuban Carlos Acosta who convinced him how talented the Cuban dancers were. So he visited the professional company, Ballet National in Cuba. During his holiday in Cuba, he fell in love with the talent and was able to entice one female and two male dancers to Australia. It was on this same trip that he discovered Laura and later he brought Patricio Reve (now Senior Soloist at QB), who was in Laura's class, to Brisbane as well. Queensland's gain for sure.
Incredibly, ballet was not Laura's first love. That was flamenco dancing, which is extremely popular in Cuba. When the Flamenco School closed (when she was 6), she reluctantly tried ballet and, like little girls worldwide, she was hooked and dreamt of being a ballerina. But in Laura's case, all her dreams came true.
She has already danced around the world. As well as Cuba and Australia, she has been to South Africa, the States, Columbia and Brazil. She told me that she is very happy living and working in cosmopolitan Brisbane and that she finds Queenslanders friendly, and loves our weather, "Just like Cuba."
Laura is a Company Artist and she is the Ballerina in Etudes. She has recently played Kitri, a sassy Spaniard, in the wedding Pas de Deux – a fragment from Don Quixote (which is also one of Li's favourite ballets) and dreams of performing the full length ballet. When I asked her what's her favourite ballet, she said she couldn't possibly choose just one, but she LOVES classical ballets that tell a story. Me too.
Li Cunxin at Mao's Last Dancer Exhibition (May Cross)
By the way, you may interested to know that Mary Li, who is Ballet Mistress and Principal Repetiteur at QB (and is married to Li Cunxin AO) has just published her memoir titled Mary's Last Dance: The Untold Story of the Wife of Mao's Last Dancer. Definitely worth a read - it is a moving memoir and a brilliant book..