Tributes to one of the most satisfying choreographers of his generation, Liam Scarlett, are flooding social media after the announcement of his death. He died on Friday 16 April at just 35.
The Scarlett family left a statement:
It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam. At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss.
We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Liam Scarlett's death. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this very sad time.
The cause of death has not been disclosed. Yesterday, the day of his death, the Royal Danish Ballet announced that the performances of Scarlett's ballet Frankenstein scheduled for 2022 had been cancelled.
Fellow choreographer Alexei Ratmansky wrote on Facebook:
I did hear one director saying: ‘I can't program his ballets, I'll be eaten alive'. Liam knew he had no future as a choreographer. That killed him. It should not have happened. This cancel culture is killing, it is too much!!! Would Diaghilev, Nureyev, Robbins and countless other greats, who were not spotless, be able to work today? How is it possible that the whole ballet world, all of us, turned our backs on such an amazing talent, forcing him to die so young?! Shame and sadness…
Scarlett was The Royal Ballet's Artist in Residence, a role created for him by the company's director Kevin O'Hare. His works for The Royal Ballet include Despite, Vayamos al Diablo, Consolations and Liebestraum (nominated for a Critics' Circle Award), Asphodel Meadows (nominated for a South Bank Award and an Olivier Award, and winner of a Critics' Circle National Dance Award) Sweet Violets, ‘Diana and Actaeon' in Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Hansel and Gretel, Jubilee pas de deux (in celebration of HM The Queen's Diamond Jubilee), The Age of Anxiety, Summertime, Frankenstein (a co-production with San Francisco Ballet) and Symphonic Dances. In the 2017/18 Season he produced a lavish new production of Swan Lake for the company.
Reviewing a revival of Asphodel Meadows in 2019, Debra Craine wrote in The Times:
It's hard to believe that Liam Scarlett was only 24 when he made Asphodel Meadows. The work is so accomplished and it looks every bit as good today as it did in 2010 when it became his first important creation for the Royal Ballet and his first big hit.
He was born in Ipswich on 8 April 1986 and started dancing when he was four. He eventually trained at The Royal Ballet School, White Lodge. While at the school he already showed an aptitude for choreography when he won the Kenneth MacMillan and Ursula Moreton Choreographic Awards, and was the first recipient of the De Valois Trust Fund Choreographers' Award. He became a member of The Royal Ballet in 2005 and was promoted to First Artist in 2008. He retired as a dancer in 2012 when he became The Royal Ballet's first Artist in Residence.
Scarlett's work for other companies includes No Man's Land (English National Ballet), Gargoyles and Funérailles (New York City Ballet), With a Chance of Rain (American Ballet Theatre), Vespertine, The Firebird and Carmen (Norweigan National Ballet), A Midsummer Night's Dream (Royal New Zealand Ballet and Queensland Ballet), Viscera and Euphotic (Miami City Ballet), Hummingbird (San Francisco Ballet), Promenade Sentimentale (K-Ballet), Serpent (BalletBoyz: The Talent) and Hinterland and Indigo Children (Ballet Black). In 2016 he was appointed Artistic Associate at Queensland Ballet.
Liam Scarlett's position with The Royal Ballet ended in March 2020 after he was accused of sexual misconduct. An independent investigation concluded there “were no matters to pursue in relation to alleged contact with students of The Royal Ballet School”. Today's Times newspaper ran a story with the headline “Denmark shuns ‘offensive' British ballet supremo Liam Scarlett”:
All performances of Liam Scarlett's production of Frankenstein were axed by the Royal Danish Theatre yesterday over alleged misconduct towards several members of their staff during rehearsals in 2018 and 2019.”
This is incredibly sad, not just because he was a talent, but because he was a human being. The truth behind various allegations has yet to fully emerge but, like James Levine at the Met and Kathleen Battle's extravagant behaviour at the same theatre, it seems unlikely that rumours didn't do the rounds long before the headlines appeared. In the '80s there was already backstage talk in New York of Levine's actions. Maybe the applause of celebrity can drown out the nagging little voice of conscience, yet if someone had investigated earlier then maybe help could have been offered and a tragedy avoided.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.