The first stage adaptation of a renowned autobiography will be performed at Wollongong’s Merrigong Theatre on Friday night.

The Peasant Prince is based on the life of Li Cunxin, Mao’s Last Dancer, and tells the story of a young boy living in rural China in the 1970s, and his determination to join the Beijing Dance Academy

The picture book was written by Cunxin after the international success Mao’s Last Dancer. It was then adapted by Monkey Baa Theatre Company directors Eva Di Cesare, Sandra Eldridge and Tim McGarry.

“Li’s Story is a power tale about hardship, aspiration, a family’s love, survival, sacrifice and determination,” McGarry said.

“To me it has always felt Li’s life journey was like a modern day fairytale, a ‘rags to riches’ story about a boy who was propelled from a life of utter poverty, onto the world stage to become one of the greatest ballet dancers of our time.” Tim McGarry said.

The stage production is aimed at children aged six and over, and will show the gruelling training of young Cunxin, his determination to follow his dreams and to achieve a better life for him and his family. The play also challenges gender stereotypes.

“Outside the dance community, especially ballet, male dancers are still not fully encouraged, as many still believe it as a female activity. Inside the companies however, men are seen as strong and treated equally,” ballet dancer Ashley Lavoynne said.

Cunxin has worked closely with the adaptations of his memoir, including the live-action film in 2003. However, he said he was happy let Monkey Baa writers and directors adapt it in their own way and was excited to see the story on stage.

“In theatrical terms, I hope we have created a sophisticated and intelligent piece of theatres that young audiences will relate to – whether as an artist, an immigrant, or their own personal hopes for their future,” McGarry said.