Cinderella has always been a special story for Li Cunxin.
Growing up in China, it was one of the few western stories he was allowed to tell or read as a child. Late in life, it became one of the first ballets the dancer, who would become famous as Mao's Last Dancer, performed when arriving at Houston Ballet.
Now, as Queensland Ballet's artistic director, Li is bringing Cinderella to Canberra. To make this version of the balletall the more special for the artistic director, this production is choreographed by Ben Stevenson - the man who first introduced him to the west after discovering him at Beijing Dance Academy.
"It's the all-time favourite fairytale, which has been transformed into this spectacular art form which is ballet," Li says.
"I think we are performing one of the best Cinderella productions in the world.
"Ben Stevenson is a master storyteller. He is truly one of the special geniuses who can tell a fabulous story in the most touching way. His choreography is truly unique and beautiful and when you watch it's like you've died and gone to heaven."
This latest production is somewhat of a tribute to one of the most influential people in Li's life and career.
It was a rare opportunity for Stevenson to offer Li a scholarship to the Houston Ballet's summer school back in the early 1980s. But Stevenson's influence didn't stop there.
During Stevenson's time as Houston Ballet's artistic director, he took it from a small regional company to a North American powerhouse. Now, Li wants to do the same with Queensland Ballet.
He really inspired me and I have learned so much from one of the best directors in the world.Li Cunxin on Ben Stevenson
"He was the one who really discovered me in China and offered me the rare opportunity to go to America and then, of course, my international ballet career flourished from that one opportunity," Li said.
"But as a director, he inspired me and I have learned so much from one of the best directors in the world. A lot of what I do with our dancers is really a direct influence from somebody like him."
For Li, Cinderella is also a chance to pass on some of the inspirational moments he had with Stevenson to Queensland Ballet's new generation of dancers.
"I think as a dancer I have become a better artist by performing ballets like this," Li says.
"Having his coaching and his influence over how a classical ballet should be done and how the role of the prince or the jester should be approached and even the ugly sisters - how can you bring the best comical performance out of these characters without overdoing it? It's such a subtle art form but when it's done just right, it's very powerful."
It's an influence which may also be passed down to some of Canberra's ballet dancers, with 16 young Canberrans chosen to perform in the production.
"I think it's very important for us to engage with the Canberra community in a way that really makes a difference," Li says.
"Not only for the people sitting in the audience but also in these children's lives because it would be very inspirational for them."
- Cinderella is at Canberra Theatre Centre until November 10. Li Cunxin will also talk about his life story on Saturday at 5pm. For tickets to either event go to canberratheatrecentre.com.au.