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By Bridget Fitzgeral
Northern Weekly
May 27, 2013

Chengwu Guo

[Melbourne, Autralia] – Chengwu Guo was only 10 when he left his home in southern China to pursue the ballet career that eventually brought him to Australia. “It was a very hard decision,” he says. But it has paid off handsomely.

Guo had been dancing for a year in his hometown of Jiujiang when teachers encouraged him to audition for a spot at the Beijing Dance Academy – he was one of only 15 boys selected in a nationwide hunt.

Getting the part meant Guo had to move away from his parents to live at the Beijing academy’s boarding school for seven years. As an only child, Guo says he and his parents thought very carefully about whether or not he should leave the family home.

But it was the right decision, he says, because he had the appropriate physique and was a natural dancer. “I was mucking around for a bit and then I started liking it,” says the 24-year-old from Bundoora.

In 2006, Guo won a full scholarship at the Prix de Lausanne competition in Switzerland to complete his ballet training at any institution in the world. “I knew nothing about overseas companies and western ballet,” he says. But he took the advice of his teachers in Beijing and chose the Australian Ballet School (ABS).

Chengwu Guo in Mao's Last dancer 2009It was in his graduation year at the ABS that Guo met Li Cunxin, the Chinese-Australian ballet dancer whose life story became the subject of a best-selling book, Mao’s Last Dancer. “I was young and I didn’t know much English – he was like a mentor to me,” he says.

Cunxin took Guo under his wing. Their relationship was cemented when Guo was selected to play a teenage Cunxin in the film version of Mao’s Last Dancer. It was a surprise for Guo, who had no idea that Cunxin was in the audience with film director Bruce Beresford at Guo’s graduate exhibition performance.

“Li sent a text to me in the lead-up to the performance. He said do well and try hard,” Guo says. “After my show, someone said: ‘Li is outside the dressing room’ – he was very happy and had the biggest smile on his face.”

Standing next to Cunxin was “a tall man” Guo had never seen before; it was Beresford. Both men were blown away by Guo’s performance and asked him to take on the part in the film. Guo was on set three months later.

“After that movie Li and I got closer – we’re like a family,” Guo says.

Through his many successes, Guo had been away from his family, something he describes as “very difficult” for his parents. So last February, Guo used money from his 2011 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award to pay for a visa for his parents to come to Australia and live with him. Guo says it was difficult to adjust to the new living arrangement, but he was happy he could be with his parents.

“I knew we were probably going to have a problem when we lived together, but I prefer for them to be here,” he says.

Guo is enjoying a recent promotion to senior artist in the Australian Ballet. He hopes one day to become a principal, and eventually be a teacher at the ballet school. “I love helping people,” he says. “I don’t want to be good by myself; I want younger dancers to get better so we can all be good together.”

Guo is performing in the Australian Ballet’s triple-bill Vanguard, which features work by George Balanchine, Jiri Kylian and Wayne McGregor. Vanguard opens on June 6 for 12 performances at the Arts Centre.

For tickets, visit australianballet.com.au

Copyright © 2013. Fairfax Media.

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