In March 2016, British choreographer Liam Scarlett spent a week with Queensland Ballet as they rehearsed his delectable A Midsummer Night’s Dream – and creative sparks of the best kind flew.
A co-production between New Zealand Ballet (where it premiered) and QB, the beautiful, touching, genuinely funny ballet had critics raving and was a runaway hit with audiences.
Liam Scarlett rehearsing. Photo © Eduardo Hidalgo
The dancers were smitten by the experience too, as was QB Artistic Director Li Cunxin, who subsequently invited the highly sought-after 30-year old choreographer to join him as Artistic Associate. In a coup for QB, Scarlett agreed. He will also continue in his role as Artist in Residence at The Royal Ballet in London.
“He loved working with our dancers and we loved working with him. It was one of those matches made in heaven,” says principal artist Clare Morehen, who remembers Scarlett from The Royal Ballet School where they both trained.
“Obviously, it’s hard to be resident at two different companies across the world from each other but it’s a testament to Li and the Company that Liam wants to work with us. I think we’re super lucky that he’s coming,” adds Morehen.
Scarlett is back in Brisbane this month to work with the dancers on his 40-minute work No Man’s Land, which is one of the ballets in QB’s triple bill Raw, playing at QPAC this month.
The other works are Christopher Bruce’s haunting 1981 Ghost Dances, inspired by a letter he recieved from the widow of a Chilean folk singer who had been murdered, and Greg Horsman’s pulsing, elegant Glass Concerto, inpisred by the music of Philip Glass.
Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo © David Kelly
Created for English National Ballet in 2014, No Man’s Land reflects on the heartache of war. Performed to the music of Liszt, it moves between women working at home in munitions factories and men fighting in the trenches.
Morehen joined QB in 2004 shortly after graduating from The Royal Ballet School where she was a year ahead of Scarlett. “We had a choreographic competition called The Ursula Moreton Choreographic Award and he won it two years running [in 2003 and 2004] so it was clear even as a student that he had a talent for choreography,” she says.
Scarlett went on to dance with The Royal Ballet, retiring in 2013 to focus on choreography. Soon afterwards, he was appointed as The
Royal Ballet’s first Artist in Residence, and has already created many new works for them.
Cunxin says that he and Scarlett are discussing “both new creations and existing works” for QB. “Liam tells a story so beautifully so we’d definitely like to create some new full-length story ballets with him,” he adds.
As to what makes Scarlett such a special choreographer, Cunxin says: “You can clearly see the magical connection between music and movement in Liam’s works. He has a unique talent and ability to bring a piece of music and story to life, and to inspire and move people.”
“Being a dancer himself so recently, he’s very hands-on,” says Morehen. “If he wants to show you a step he gets up and does it with the dancers. Working with him on Dream he was very character-driven. He wanted each dancer to explore the character [they were playing] and make it their own,” she says.
“Sometimes choreographers can be very specific about what they want but he wanted us to do things that felt very real. That kind of liberty for dancers makes you feel very involved in the piece. [With Dream] we were staging a ballet that had already been created. To have him create a new work on us will take that to another level.”
Raw plays at QPAC March 17 – 25