Liam Scarlett: the British choreographer who died at 35 | Dance


For a decade Liam Scarlett, who died at the age of 35, was a major figure in British and international ballet, sought after by companies around the world. He created a full production of Frankenstein for the Royal Ballet and was given the great responsibility of staging his new version of Swan Lake. After allegations of sexual misconduct at the Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School, the company severed ties with him; an independent investigation found that there were “no issues to pursue” with regard to the students.

Liam Scarlett dancing in La Fille Mal Gardée at the Royal Ballet.
Liam Scarlett dancing in La Fille Mal Gardée at the Royal Ballet. Photographie: Robbie Jack / Corbis / Getty Images

Scarlett began her career as a dancer, but her precocious choreographic talent was evident even as a student at the Royal Ballet School, winning the Kenneth MacMillan and Ursula Moreton Choreographic Awards. While a member of the Royal Ballet Company, this potential was recognized and nurtured by then artistic director Monica Mason (and later her successor Kevin O’Hare).

With the one-act work Asphodel Meadows in 2010, Scarlett apparently arrived fully formed on the main stage of the Royal Opera House at the age of 24. It was an abstract, elegant, lyrical, romantic and sensitive piece of neoclassicism in accord with Poulenc’s Concerto for Two pianos. What made Scarlett’s work stand out was the great craftsmanship of her choreography, not only in the individual detail of the steps, but in her ability to handle large ensembles with symphonic competence, to step back and see the steps. patterns of the whole scene. The qualities seen in Asphodel Meadows were to set the tone for Scarlett’s future designs, and it was also the start of a successful collaboration with designer John Macfarlane, who created atmospheric and pictorial sets and detailed backdrops for a number. of works by Scarlett.

In 2012, at age 26, Scarlett retired as a dancer to focus on choreography and became an artist in residence at the Royal. Mason had previously recruited radical contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor, but Scarlett offered a worthy contrast, picking up the thread of classicism in a way that delighted audiences looking for fine lines and rich twentieth-century scores.

Scarlett’s ability was quickly noted elsewhere and he accepted commissions from the San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Norwegian National Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and the Queensland Ballet. In the UK, he produced the moving and well-received program No Man’s Land for the English National Ballet’s first World War I centenary program, and the succulent Serpent for BalletBoyz, entering contemporary dance territory.

La version Scarlett de Swan Lake au Royal Opera House en 2018.
La version Scarlett de Swan Lake au Royal Opera House en 2018. Photographie: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

The young choreographer has produced a large number of works in a short time. He worked quickly and he knew what he wanted; he was very sure of his creative vision, perhaps sometimes to the detriment of more engaged narrative works, which could have benefited from an outside perspective. But Scarlett’s ambition to study psychological and choreographic complexity was clear, first in 2012’s Sweet Violets, inspired by painter Walter Sickert’s Jack the Ripper obsession, then a nightmare Hansel and Gretel (2013), before his Frankenstein in 2016. on the difficult task of conjuring up the romance, horror and suspense of Mary Shelley’s novel while seeking to find empathy with each of the main characters, with mixed results.

The seriousness of Scarlett’s intention couldn’t be questioned – he wasn’t afraid of a difficult text or score, though he was sometimes too caught up in her admiration for him to find. a way to re-envision it for the stage. The Age of Anxiety (2014) was based on the long and difficult poem of the same name by WH Auden and the Second Symphony by Leonard Bernstein; he again showcased his art and drew great performances from his main dancers, especially Bennet Gartside as Quant. In 2017, he performed symphonic dances, preying on Rachmaninoff, to feature lead dancer Zenaida Yanowsky in her farewell performances. Without radically changing the original model of Swan Lake, Scarlett made some dramatic sound interventions in her version, including a confident recast of the ballet’s ending, suggesting a maturity as a developing director.


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