The rise and rise of Liam Scarlett

Liam Scarlett. Photo: Cleon Daniel
Liam Scarlett. Photo: Cleon Daniel
Katie is an award-winning arts journalist specialising in dance and physical theatre
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I first met Liam Scarlett when he was not long out of teenagerdom. I remember him being shy and slightly awkward, as most young men of that age are, but with a sort of quiet confidence that belied his years. Fresh out of the Royal Ballet Upper School, he was about to present his first choreographic work in the Linbury Studio Theatre of the Royal Opera House.

He spoke with such modesty about winning choreographic prizes at the RBS (such as the Kenneth MacMillan Choreographic Award in 2001; the Ursula Moreton Choreographic Award in 2003 and 2004 and the De Valois Trust Fund Choreographers' Award in 2005). But more than anything I remember thinking that Liam Scarlett was put on this earth to make movement. A love of choreography and desire to create exuded from him – he had quite a remarkable artistic aura and maturity, which seemed particularly extraordinary because of his age.

As soon as he joined the company, Liam made a duet for Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin for the 75th anniversary of The Royal Ballet. He has since racked up an impressive portfolio of work, from creating Gargoyles with members of the New York City Ballet, to sitting on the panel of judges for the first Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition last year. His choreographic debut on the main stage of the Royal Opera House in 2010, Asphodel Meadows, received rave reviews and cemented him as the next British choreographic prodigy. At only 26 years of age, Liam has already been nominated for Time Out’s The Hospital Club Top 100 list 2012 for most influential people in the arts.

His hotly anticipated new show, Viscera, was created earlier this year for the Miami City Ballet, and will receive it's UK premiere on November 3 at the ROH, alongside work by 42-year-old Royal Ballet resident choreographer Wayne McGregor and Royal Ballet artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon, 39.

But what exactly is it about this Ipswich born boy that is so special? At a recent chat with Royal Ballet principals Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera at a Ballet Society Meeting, both seemed to have a pretty good idea.

Ricardo had high praise for the young choreographer, saying that “he has huge potential for being one of the best choreographers alive”.

Laura was no less enthusiastic in her adoration, saying:

“He is pure talent. The guy can't help it. He has that something special and it's all inside this gorgeous, kind person with no arrogance. His work is a gift. It certainly feels like a gift to me, one which I don't take for granted. I feel really lucky to be part of the company while Liam is choreographing and he is probably one of the main reasons I do what I do.”

High praise indeed. The Spanish dancing pair even went so far as to describe Liam as the next Ashton, or Macmillan.

Ricardo said:

“For me Liam is a wonderful product of the Royal Ballet's heritage. He manages to encompass both the tricky, fast and musical footwork from Ashton together with MacMillan's passion, complexity and depth of human emotion. All of that with his very own personal touch on top of it. So even though it's strongly influenced by his Royal Ballet upbringing there's a definitive new, fresh and exciting feel to his work.”

Laura agreed that he has an astonishing yet traditional style:

“For me his choreography makes use of everything I learnt at White lodge that is pure Royal Ballet, but he has made it his own. Musicality, use of the upper body, footwork (especially for women on point, using the demi-point), speed. He can adapt and choreograph a narrative, a classical piece or an abstract ballet equally, remaining true to his style. And it's never just movement. Even with his abstract work, it has a heartbeat that drives it. It has a soul. This is true with Viscera. It is exactly what it says in the title and it is now up to us, the dancers,to do it justice.”

I for one am looking forward to seeing Liam's new work on the weekend – because of Lau 'n' Ric's infectious enthusiasm, yes – but also because I'm excited about the discovery of such a rare talent in my lifetime, and the privilege to see the development first hand of an iconic British choreographer that is sure to go down in the dance history books.

Viscera, Infra, Fools Paradise will show at the Royal Opera House on 3 / 5 / 7 / 8 / 12 / 14 November 2012.