PEOPLE: Liam Scarlett steps up to a new role
PUBLISHED: 13:08 19 August 2014 | UPDATED: 13:08 19 August 2014
Liam Scarlett was described as one to watch when he was a dancer with the Royal Ballet. Now he’s turned his back on performing he’s being hailed as choreography’s next big thing. Andrew Clarke talks to him about his spectacular career so far
Suffolk born dancer Liam Scarlett has worked long and hard to earn himself the position of first artist with the Royal Ballet. And just as he was starting to make his mark he’s decided to take a step back and reinvent himself as a choreographer.
At 27, it’s a bold move. He’s at the peak of his dancing prowess. He’s wowed the critics with his athleticism and his grace, but he feels that, despite the years of hard graft, it’s time to create his own work rather than interpret other people’s.
You may be forgiven for thinking that his employers, the Royal Ballet, would be slightly miffed that one of their stars had decided to quit while he had a good six years top flight dancing left in him, but you’d be wrong. They’re delighted.
Monica Mason, the Royal Ballet’s former artistic director who retired in 2012, championed Liam’s work as a choreographer while he was still training.
This support was officially endorsed when artistic director Kevin O’Hare appointed Liam the Royal Ballet’s artist-in-residence – a post created for him.
Liam said that as his choreography work developed he found it increasingly difficult to balance the demands of a daytime rehearsal room and the evening performance.
“I felt that I needed at least 25 hours in a day and something had to give.” It turned out to be performing, but after 18 months Liam still doesn’t yearn for a return to the spotlight.
“I thought I would miss it more than I have. But I am so busy that I don’t have time to miss being on stage. I left at a time when I still enjoyed dancing, which is better than resenting it and feeling that you’re being held back.”
As well as creating work for the Royal Ballet, Liam has been in demand with dance companies around the world and in the last year has provided new pieces for Ballet Black, Miami City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, K-Ballet, English National Ballet and the Ballet Boyz.
Unlike Michael Nunn and William Trevitt – the Ballet Boyz – who choreographed themselves into a number of their early productions, Liam has no interest in providing himself with a dancing career.
“I don’t think it would work, besides I’m working with some of world’s best dancers so why would I want to complicate matters by wanting to be in it. It’s very difficult to choreograph a piece if you’re actually in it. You need to have a pair of eyes on the outside looking at it objectively, so you can see what’s working and what’s not.”
Born in Ipswich, Liam started dancing at the age of four and danced at the Linda Shipton School of Dance before landing a place at the Royal Ballet school, White Lodge.
Fellow Ipswich dancer Gary Avis was an inspiration. “I had seen Gary dance. I knew he came from Ipswich. He was a couple of years ahead of me and when he joined the company I knew I wanted to do the same. He made me realise that it was possible to get there.”
He comes from a creative background – his father is a landscape gardener and his brother is a lighting designer who works at the New Wolsey and the Regent Theatre. “None of us were pushed into a particular direction, but we were encouraged to pursue whatever made us happy. I loved dancing. I was just expressing myself and burning off energy.
“I don’t remember ever making a conscious decision about trying to make a career out of my dancing. It was more of a case of various teachers suggesting ways forward and saying: ‘Have thought about trying this…?’ and suddenly I found myself at the Royal Ballet school.”
He went away to ballet school at 11. It was such a tough, demanding education that anyone not wanting a career as a dancer would have fallen by the wayside long before the opportunity presented itself to dance at Covent Garden.
“If you don’t have the heart for it, if you don’t love it, then you wouldn’t still be there because it’s gruelling,” says Liam.
He started making his own work while still at White Lodge. “I won a couple of prizes and people suggested I do some more. It carried on when I joined the company, with Monica Mason, in particular, encouraging me.” Because he has been a dancer he understands a dancer’s concerns, knowing when to ease back and when he can push a bit harder to get what he is after.
“Dancers, no matter how tired they are, love being creative, so I try to be spontaneous and allow things to develop in rehearsal – something special tends to happen when you are being pushed to your limit.”
Dance is always changing, says Liam, and ballet, the most conservative type of dance, is now embracing elements of contemporary dance and different forms of movement.
“The arts have become this great melting pot of different influences. It’s exciting to venture into somebody else’s territory, which I know makes some critics nervous because they don’t think it’s ballet, but for us it’s a great opportunity to stretch ourselves and combine different art forms.
“Besides it’s nice not to have a label on things. I think as a society we are too anxious to label everything.”
Liam Scarlett is working on new pieces for the Royal Ballet to be unveiled later this year.