Contrasts in Mao's Last Dancer

Li's story is notable for its contrasts. As a child in Qingdao, Li lived in extreme poverty. As a principal of the Houston Ballet, he was acclaimed as one of the best male dancers in the world, became a friend of George Bush snr and his wife, and was feted by wealthy patrons.

After he ended his dance career in Melbourne, having married an Australian dancer, Mary McKendry, Li became a stockbroker. On the surface, that seems a strange choice, but I now see the genesis of the drive for financial security.

Mao's Last Dancer is much more than a rags-to-riches story. It is really about the nature of family love, courage and obsession.

Mao's Last Dancer is told with simplicity, but Li's style is deceptive. It takes skill to write simply, just as it takes years of backbreaking work to make ballet look elegant and effortless.

His story is blended with fables and lessons, notably the story of the mango. When Li was trying to master five consecutive pirouettes, his wise teacher asked him what he would do with a mango if he was lucky enough to be given this rare and beautiful fruit.

"Eat it," Li answered. "No," said the teacher, it would be better to "hold it, admire the shape, feel the weight, cut the skin and savour the fragrance, taste the skin and even the nut". Then comes the ultimate sensation, the pulp.

The fun, as the teacher said, is in the process, and satisfaction lies in the journey.