People in the dance community have expressed great sorrow at the loss of Liam Scarlett, with Alexei Ratmansky – the most celebrated choreographer working today in classical dance – writing on Facebook that Scarlett’s knowledge that he had no future as a choreographer “killed him”.
Liam Scarlett in rehearsals with Queensland Ballet in 2016. Photograph © Eduardo Vieira
Ratmansky’s post reads in full:” I am shocked by the news of Liam Scarlett suicide. What a tragic loss of a rare choreographic talent. How many amazing ballets he could have created yet! After allegations of inappropriate behavior less than two years ago, all companies that he worked for removed his ballets from the rep and canceled all his future contracts. I did hear one director saying: ‘I can’t program his ballets, I’ll be eaten alive’. Liam knew he has 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 … RIP Liam.”
Former Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet, Maina Gielgud, responded: “Yes yes, so with what you say Alexei.”
Former Queensland Ballet dancer and now QB Associate Choreographer Jack Lister told Limelight he was speaking not only for himself but for many other QB dancers. “Working with Liam gave you such an insight into him as a human being. Gentle, intuitive, articulate, humble. In his studio, you were at times unaware of the depths you had reached – physically, emotionally and artistically. Working with him was truly a creative exchange built on mutual trust and respect. You were empowered, privileged and alive. He fed us artistically and technically to sustain us through the turbulent nature of company life.”
“It is strange to be writing in past tense when he spent most of his time creating the future. We never took for granted the time in the studio together and it feels now even more profound to have been granted the privilege to experience his brilliance. We love you Liam.”
Former Queensland Ballet Principal Artist Laura Hidalgo told Limelight: “There are no words to express my sadness. No words can articulate what he meant as a person and an artist, to me and the world. It was a privilege to be a part of Liam’s journey. He was a creative genius, a rare gem! He had a magical presence; everyone felt it. He was truly one of a kind and his passing is a terrible loss.”
A former QB employee who worked closely with Scarlett called him “an incredibly special soul who had a creative presence that could fill a room despite his humble, almost introverted nature”. Scarlett was also intentionally collaborative, said the former employee, who preferred not to be named.
“He was generous, inclusive, encouraging and fully invested in whatever he was working on. He cared deeply about each role and was passionate about casting dancers based on talent and ability rather than being hemmed in by company politics and dancer rankings.”
“Sadly in the world of the performing arts, there are so many creatives, artists and directors who get lost in their own egos and supposed importance. Liam was never that. In fact he was the antithesis of that. He didn’t seek the spotlight, the spotlight found him. He was a rare talent. The loss of such a deep creative talent is beyond tragic.”
In a statement from The Royal New Zealand Ballet, Artistic Director Patricia Barker and Executive Director Lester McGrath said: “The Royal New Zealand Ballet sends its deepest sympathy to the family and friends of choreographer Liam Scarlett. Like many in the international dance community, we were shocked and saddened to learn of his untimely death.”
“The company was privileged to work with Liam when he created his beautiful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 2015. He was, quite simply, a joy to work with, and inspired everyone to give their very best. We are truly proud to be bringing A Midsummer Night’s Dream back to New Zealand this Christmas, but the performances will be bittersweet, knowing that Liam will not be with us again to share the magic.”
Among other tributes, American Ballet Theatre principal artist Misty Copeland posted a video on Instagram accompanied by the words “the incomparable Liam Scarlett”. British dance writer Graham Watts posted on Twitter: “Is Liam Scarlett to be the ultimate victim of a cancel culture? So appallingly sad. Whatever had happened in the past it really should never have been allowed to come to this. Where was the duty of care to the young man?”