Grand opening of the GECC.
Grand opening of the GECC. Michael Richards

Persistence pays off as GECC opens to much fanfare

LOCALS and VIPs turned out in force for the Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre's glamorous official opening and dinner on Wednesday.

The black-tie event kicked-off at 6.30pm and included appearances by top selling singer Wendy Matthews, and internationally renowned ballet star Li Cunxin, now Queensland Ballet's artistic director. Mayor Gail Sellers declared the centre open.

"This project truly is a wonderful example of what can be achieved through vision, persistence and co-operation," she said.

"If the original theatre served us for 30 years, this new, multi-function precinct will certainly provide for at least another 30."

The rebuild took just over one year and was completed in November 2013.

Architect Don Marshall designed the new centre and saw the completed building for the first time on Wednesday.

"It was great to have the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the centre of town," he said.

The GECC's Troy Everett said the opening dinner attracted 320 patrons including parliamentarians, industry, volunteers who help run the centre and locals.

But the highlight for Mr Everett, as for many attendees, was Li Cunxin's address.

"Li's speech was awe-inspiring. You could have heard a pin drop in the room when he was speaking, nobody moved a muscle," he said.

Friends of the Theatre's Bev Fellows has volunteered as an usher for the centre for 30 years and is delighted at the modern facilities the new centre provides.

Mrs Fellows' highlight was also hearing Li Cunxin's story of courage and perseverance.

"I'm a ballet queen. I love ballet, and Li's journey was absolutely amazing," she said.

It has everything that opens and shuts

THE Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre's Troy Everett was beaming at the new centre's official opening on Wednesday.

"Everything from the front door to back door is new," said.

Features include:

  • A state-of-the-art kitchen that caters for up to 700, supported by new bars and amenities.
  • A refurbished auditorium now seats 675, with backstage green room and facilities.
  • Dedicated conference/meeting rooms.
  • Public forecourt "piazza" entry
  • More than 200 public car parks next door are accessible by three new elevators.
  • Above the car park, Gladstone Ports Corporation has developed new offices for maritime safety agencies with line-of-sight to the harbour.
  • A cafe will open soon.

Early years a stretch for Li

LI CUNXIN, whose autobiography Mao's Last Dancer was a bestseller and the basis of a 2009 feature film, gave keynote address at the GECC opening dinner on Wednesday.

In 1987 Mr Cunxin married dancer Mary McKendry, who grew up in Rockhampton.

Mr Cunxin described his 1960-1970s childhood in China during which time his family endured extreme hardship.

At age 11 Mr Cunxin was selected by Madame Mao's cultural advisers to attend the Beijing Dance Academy. He left his family and trained for seven years to become a ballet dancer.

He described the audition for the dance academy, where an instructor pushed his leg upwards so it stretched all the way to his head, asking whether it hurt. Mr Cunxin had smiled and said it did not hurt even though both hamstrings were torn in the process, which was repeated on his other leg. He was allowed to join the academy.

Mr Cunxin said it was not an easy path and he did not always love dancing.

"I hated ballet with a passion," he told the crowd at the GECC, who roared with laughter.

His passion for dancing was kindled by a new ballet teacher who showed him that as a professional dancer he would be able to save his family from starving.

"Once I found that motivation, everything made perfect sense... suddenly the days were not long enough," he said.

He described getting up at 5am and practising until 9pm and years later he was an international star.

Grand opening of the GECC - Li Cunxin.
Grand opening of the GECC - Li Cunxin. Mike Richards GLA230114GECC

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