Metamorphosis at the Queensland Ballet with the appointment of Li Cunxin

With the appointment of Li Cunxin as artistic director of the Queensland Ballet, the company will undergo a metamorphosis from the choreographer-led model of the past 50-plus years.

In the 14 years of the artistic directorship of his predecessor, Francois Klaus (1998-2012), the repertoire has been replete with Klaus’s own works.

This year’s rep included his own Don Quixote, Fairy Tales and Alice in Wonderland and last year his Little Mermaid, Carmen, and King Arthur and the Tales of Camelot.

Klaus has closely followed the model of his former boss, John Neumeier, whose Hamburg Ballet is dominated by Neumeier’s own dance dramas. He brings few outsiders into the company to choreograph.

Klaus was a dancer at the Hamburg Ballet for 18 years.

The Queensland Ballet began its life in 1960 under the artistic directorship of a choreographer, Charles Lisner, and was followed by others who took the same path.

Harry Haythorne, however, also introduced the work of Walter Gore, Peter Darrell, Kenneth MacMillan, Graeme Murphy, Don Asker, Garth Welch and Leslie White, while Harold Collins’s repertoire included work by the Australians, Jacqui Carroll and Barry Moreland.

Li plans to expand the repertoire by introducing the work of such international choreographers as Jiri Kylian, Paul Taylor and William Forsythe.

At the moment there are 26 dancers listed on the Queensland Ballet’s website. When the company needs to boost numbers in the corps de ballet, it uses dancers from its school or recruits freelancers.

Li says he will add eight more dancers to the company but it will all depend, of course, on finances, and the money raising efforts of the board and Anna Marsden, the chief executive since 2010.

When Klaus resigned last year, the Queensland Ballet said he would remain as artistic director until the end of 2013. That was a long period for all concerned and Klaus himself might have decided to leave sooner rather than later.

Last month in Hamburg, I saw him in the premises of the Hamburg Ballet, watching class with his wife, and artistic associate, Robyn White. During a friendly chat, the couple said they were on holiday, but perhaps a new opportunity arose for them both on their tour around Europe. They will now leave the Queensland Ballet at the end of this year.

Li Cunxin has long held ambitions to be artistic director of a ballet company. More than a decade ago, I believe he applied for the position at the Australian Ballet, however David McAllister got the job, following Ross Stretton’s move to the Royal Ballet.

With Li’s corporate background, his long history as a principal dancer in Houston and Australia, his public profile as the author of Mao’s Last Dancer, and with the help of his wife, the ex-ballerina Mary McKendry who is an excellent coach, Li is likely to be a formidable leader at the Queensland Ballet.

He will begin programming the 2013 season when he joins the Queensland Ballet in July.

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