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.
VERY sad since undeniably talented both as a dancer + latterly as a choreographer! Like James Levine, I fear he was destroyed by his own personal demons which sadly he could not contain.
My most sincere condolences are with his family! They can be extremely proud of their son’s wonderful choreographic legacy!
For myself, I enjoyed Liam Scarlett’s works and it does not sit comfortably with me that cancel culture may do exactly that – cancel his works. It seems he behaved badly; did his employers, who must have had some inklings, behave any better by not dealing with issues promptly? It does not excuse persons who behave badly and possibly illegally, but as far as I am aware, he was not charged with an offence. I don’t approve of people’s horrible behaviour, but neither do I approve of someone being hounded perhaps to their death. What a bloody odious age we are in. My condolences to his friends and family.
My sincere condolences to his family and close friends .
Sad indeed to loose such a talented artist and a human being – even sadder that no-one could foresee and give much needed help. Alas too late. My sincere condolences to his family. RIP.
A brilliant man’s life ended due to ‘allegations’. As if sex has not existed in the world of ballet, as if it is not the greatest driver of ecstactic bliss and complex relationships in this art form and others. As if no choreographer ever had touched a boy’s bum or a girl’s tit by way of congratulation or friendly encouragement. And who are these murderers whose hands are soaked in blood, who destroyed this delicate creative person and for what reason? Which union representative encouraged the allegations? Which spineless ballet director went along with it – at gigantic expense – in order to satisfy a small handful of low quality morons who are now part of the murderous circle. You are all covered in blood and it will never wash off, I hope you drown in it. Enjoy your moment of triumph which has resulted in the death of a genius.
My sincere and heartfelt condolences to Liam’s family.
It would be helpful to know how he died before commenting. Was it by his own hand, I wonder? If so, his passing is indeed a tragedy. Creative artists, like everyone else, make mistakes. It means they need more support and understanding, not less.
Heart-breaking. It was ridiculous and outrageous to cancel the performances of the artistic creations of this choreographer. The artistic creations of the artist can and should be judged separately from the personal life of the artist…unless, of course, we want to live in a world of where the only music and dance that is performed, the only paintings and sculpture exhibited are created by people whose personal and political views and behavior meet some kind of “high” moral standard. I, for one, don’t want to live in that kind of society. Imagine a world where every poem, every novel, every piece of music, every dance were not reproduced if the creator were (at one point in their lives) discovered to have been a drug addict, an abusive spouse, an abusive parent, a debtor. We’re living in an era of a new kind of Inquisition and in the end, we will all suffer for it. Rest In Peace, Liam Scarlett. Your dancing and choreography brought me a lot of joy.
There is nothing so lonely…
Really sad and upset to loose a great talent. Such a shame help was not given and he was still able to shine. Create more work. Life too short.
I would just add that I’d like to know where is the administrators’ outrage over their own tacit complicity? All of these arts institutions’ toxic and festering cultures didn’t happen overnight. All those executives and board members give a damn about is the product on the stage. How it gets there is nothing to them. The perverted notion that anything is okay to encourage discipline and a higher level of performance is justified because “art”… no, it isn’t.
The excesses of artistic directors, conductors, ballet masters, casting directors, etc. are never curbed until the damage is done. If you’re signing the checks that allow this kind of abuse to endure then you’re the problem. There is no qualitative difference between the brutality of the soul crushing sports leagues and the toxic performing arts companies. There needs to be constant feedback and monitoring to ensure that the people at the bottom, the ones who are most vulnerable, are not being victimized by those managers who hold their professional lives in their hands.
If Liam Scarlett was so awful, how was he allowed to go so far with no administrators doing anything? Maybe he could have been saved from himself by an earlier intervention. Instead, everyone fawned over his brilliant successes and let him, apparently, run wild. Because of its failure at transparency, the Royal Ballet merely kicked the can down the road. “We didn’t know” is not an acceptable excuse.
I knew Rudolph Nureyev in Toronto where he regularly performed and choreographed. He liked me and was always polite and welcoming. And I also knew many people from the National Ballet of Canada who worked with him on a regular basis. The dancers always expressed loyalty and gratitude for all he did for them and for raising the international stature of the company. But I also heard eye-popping stories of Mr. Nureyev’s explosive temper and antics. With today’s Me Too movement and cancel culture, he would have likely had to change his ways in order to survive. His creative capacities were legendary and so were his personal indiocyncracies. Colleagues kept forgiving him in the hope that he would stay on, and stay on he did for many, many years.