At just 24, Liam Scarlett made history when he became one of the youngest choreographers to stage a new work for the Royal Ballet Company, and now, the Brit is creating a work across the pond for one of America’s most respected companies, the Miami City Ballet.
Scarlett got an early start, beginning weekly dance lessons in Suffolk at the age of four, “because I had too much energy,” he explains, but he was a natural talent. By the age of 8, he caught the attention of the Royal Ballet School and three years later was resident at the company’s boarding school in London.
He choreographed his first ballet at the age of 11 for his fellow students.
“It was horrible, seven girls,” recalls Scarlett. “I was very glad to say I’ve gotten so much better ever since. I entered the annual competition, kept doing more. Obviously I did a little something right.”
Life at the school was challenging, “not tiaras and tights all the time,” he says, “but if you love it, then you do it, you have to have dedication to be in the art form.”
Instructors nurtured both his dancing and his choreography and he was accepted into the Royal Ballet Company at 18. Both talents fed the other and Scarlett feels he learned as much from his dancing as his choreography.
“It does get difficult,” he says, “when you’re at the back of the ‘Swan Lake’ rehearsal while worrying about the rehearsal you’re going to be doing in the next studio later.”
Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet’s artistic director, saw a performance of Scarlett’s London premiere, “Asphodel Meadows,” and immediately commissioned the young talent.
For Miami, Scarlett harnessed the music of contemporary American composer Lowell Liebermann’s piano concerto to create a “complex and urgent ballet…to reflect Miami City Ballet’s outstanding qualities of energy, passion, musicality and radiance.” Two exuberant, driven group movements bookend a passionate pas de deux.
“When I create, music is such an important part.” Scarlett traveled to Miami last August to watch the company and get a true feel for the dancers, before undergoing a 10-day workshop to create the ballet: “I saw what they were about, individual personalities, this kind of internal, athletic, physical underlying drive that every single person in the company seemed to have. It was amazing to watch. Hopefully, that’s what ‘Viscera’ gets across.”
In addition to the choreography, Scarlett also designed the costumes, allowing the ballet to “take the vision I want—entirely. If it doesn’t work, it’s my fault.”
In a highly competitive field where dancers succumb to injuries and retirement often comes early, does Scarlett worry about the future?
“The reason some of the best choreographers were successful was because they started young and the changes in their lives are reflected in the pieces they create. They have less fear because they’re young and have no inhibitions. They take risks,” says Scarlett. “With any artist, you’re only as good as your last piece, so I’m always trying to do something better and different.
He adds, “That’s the work ethic from my point of view.”
Program II – including World Premiere of “Viscera” by Liam Scarlett
Miami City Ballet
January 6 – 8, Arsht Center, Miami
January 27-29, Kravis Center, West Palm Beach
February 3-5, Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale
Tickets available at MiamiCityBallet.org