Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dinner with Mao's Last Dancer

Last night I was lucky enough to be a guest at a dinner at the National Portrait Gallery where the after dinner speaker was Li Cunxin - better known as Mao's Last Dancer.  It was a fantastic night.

If you haven't been to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, it is a striking building filled with amazing works of art.  The foyer had been transformed into a dinner setting but we could wander a limited selection of the galleries prior to sitting down.

With my past in event management, I have eaten at more than my fair share of corporate events.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the catering at the Portrait Gallery is some of the best there is.  If you get invited to an event there - say yes!

Canapes included oysters and semi-dried tomato tartlets - both delicious.  Entree was a smoked trout souffle or smoked duck salad.  Both were again delicious.  Mains were a medium rare beef fillet with a tiny beef pie, mushrooms and potatoes dauphinoise or pork belly with sauted brussel leaves and chestnuts.  Again, all was beautifully cooked and presented and absolutely tasty.

Between main and dessert Li spoke.  If you haven't read his book or seen the movie, then I highly recommend that you do.  His story is just fantastic.  He was transformed from a simple, starving peasant to a world renowned ballet dancer through sheer determination, an amazing work ethic and just a touch of luck.  He told stories that would be familiar to those who read the book but his message was that we all have the power to create the life we want.  He asked if you only had an hour left to live and you wrote the achievements of your life down, would you be happy?  Would you be satisfied that you had done all you could?  I think it is a rare person who could say yes to that.  I know that personally I could procrastinate for Australia and if faced with some of the choices he had to make I don't know that I could have made the brave ones he did.  But it is an inspiring thought - what would I want that piece of paper to look like and how can I go about achieving that.  I don't think you have to be a world renowned leader in your field of endeavour to have a life that is happy and fulfilling but it does take some thought and effort, something I think we could all do.

Li finished his talk by showing some footage from his final performance.  If you know the story you will know that he worked extremely hard on his turns and leaps - well let me say, even right at the end of his career, all that work was paying off, he was fantastic.

Inspired and in awe we turned back to our table to find that dessert had arrived - what a perfect way to finish the evening.  Thank goodness S is a sharing kind of guy because I don't know how I could have chosen between the chocolate, hazelnut dacquoise with raspberry poached rhubarb or the vanilla pannacotta with poached quince.  Stuffed beyond any reasonable measure, I did manage to try the petit fours - passionfruit marshmallow.  I've never quite understood why people make marshmallow but having tried this unbelievably light, fluffy delicious confection, I think I"m prepared to give it a go now.

What a brilliant evening!

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