Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.


Scarlett's rise as a choreographer was swift, starting as a young student at the Royal Ballet School, where he won several choreographic awards. He joined the company in 2005, and was promoted to first artist in 2008. Two years later, he created Asphodel Meadows, his first ballet for the company, and was quickly hailed as an exciting new talent. By 2012, he stepped back from dancing to become The Royal Ballet's first artist in residence, and in 2016 he became the youngest choreographer to create a full-length ballet on the company with the debut of his Frankenstein. He created ballets around the world at companies like San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Norwegian National Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Australia's Queensland Ballet, where he was also named artistic associate. In recent years he's been celebrated for The Royal's new production of Swan Lake and work on Disney's The Nutcracker & The Four Realms.

In August 2019, The Royal Ballet suspended Scarlett over allegations of sexual misconduct towards Royal Ballet School students and launched an independent investigation. After the news became public in January 2020, Queensland Ballet suspended its relationship with him, as well, and several companies, including San Francisco Ballet and Texas Ballet Theater, canceled planned performances of Scarlett's work.

When the investigation concluded that March, The Royal Ballet announced that there were "no matters to pursue in relation to alleged contact with students of the Royal Ballet School." Nevertheless, the company said it was ending its association with the choreographer—leaving more questions than answers.

Scarlett was due to stage his Frankenstein at The Royal Danish Ballet in 2022. Last week, however, the company announced it was canceling his production due to what it called Scarlett's "unacceptable behavior" towards members its staff during rehearsals in 2018 and 2019.

News of Scarlett's death has shocked and saddened many in the ballet world, with friends, colleagues and dance organizations, including The Royal Ballet, leaving tributes to the choreographer on social media. The news has also led to intense debates over whether he was treated fairly, with some calling Scarlett a victim of cancel culture and others arguing that the ballet companies were taking appropriate action to protect their dancers.

Much remains unknown, and Scarlett himself did not speak publicly on the matter. But all can agree that his death is an utter tragedy.

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July 2021