After the suicide of a choreographer, the ballet faces difficult questions

MUNICH – “With a Chance of Rain” by choreographer Liam Scarlett, a lush and expansive ballet on a melodic piano score by Rachmaninoff, w...


MUNICH – “With a Chance of Rain” by choreographer Liam Scarlett, a lush and expansive ballet on a melodic piano score by Rachmaninoff, would hardly seem risky programming. But it was still notable when Bayerisches Staatsballett performed it last weekend at the Cuvilliés Theater in Munich.

The company is one of the few to continue to feature works by Scarlett, who was an early successful choreographer when he committed suicide in April, at age 35, after several prominent institutions severed ties with him on charges of misconduct.

Her death shocked and divided the dance world, although many details remain unknown. The Royal Ballet in London, which suspended it and opened an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving students at his school, said last year that he had found “no reason to continue” but that Scarlett “would no longer work with or for the Royal Ballet”. Other companies have also separated from him: His death was announced the same day that the Royal Danish Ballet said it was canceling its full “Frankenstein” ballet, citing other allegations of misconduct.

Some in the ballet world saw these movements as a sign that dance companies were finally taking allegations of sexual misconduct seriously. Others saw them as proof of a crazy cancellation culture.

Scarlett’s rise to choreographic notoriety has been as swift as her fall from grace. A former Royal Ballet dancer, he was acclaimed early on with his first work, “Asphodel Meadows”, in 2010 for the Royal Ballet, and became its Artist in Residence in 2012. While still in his twenties, he attracted orders from large companies. in the whole world.

Then came the allegations and, later, the heartbreaking news of his death in April. Although no cause of death was given at the time, a coroner’s report in May confirmed widespread speculation that it was suicide. And while it can be hard to say why someone commits suicide, experts agree that suicide is not caused by a single event, but by complex accumulations of elements – the world of dance is full of opinions and theories.

The reactions were complicated by the ambiguity of the Royal Ballet’s statement, which, as Luke Jennings wrote in a recent essay in The London Review of Books, found Scarlett “both innocent and guilty”, stating that there was nothing untoward to sue while severing ties with him.

There’s still a lot we don’t know: why the Royal Ballet ended their relationship with Scarlett, or the details of the allegations about the students. Scarlett never spoke publicly about the allegations, the Royal Ballet declined to comment further and none of the students came forward. We also do not know the details of what happened at the Royal Danish Ballet, although Kasper Holten, the director of the Royal Danish Theater, spoke in general terms of Scarlett’s “unacceptable behavior” and the priority “to the well-being and safety of our employees. “

In an interview, Igor Zelensky, the manager of the Bayerisches Staatsballett, said he has been discussing with Scarlett the staging of a play in Munich for years. They agreed on “With a Chance of Rain” early last year, with the prospect that Scarlett would later create a full body of work for the company.

“Then after it all happened with him, the deal with me stuck,” Zelensky said. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t really follow him. I wasn’t into the details, although Liam told me the Royal Ballet didn’t want to work with him. He said, “I am going through some emotional difficulties. “

Dance critic Graham Watts, writing for Spectator magazine, said: “Scarlett’s career effectively ended without a trial or transparent due process. A duty of care to students should be of the highest level of robustness, but a duty of care to the accused is also required. “

Others were more passionate. Choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, expressing shock at the news on social media, blamed Scarlett’s death directly on cancellation culture. “I heard a director say, ‘I can’t program his ballets, I’ll be devoured alive,’” Ratmansky wrote. “Liam knew he had no future as a choreographer. It killed him. It shouldn’t have happened. This culture of cancellation kills.

Others argued that it was too simple, effectively blaming the victims of abuse – and the business executives who tried to protect them – as they tried to talk about lingering, long-buried issues. “My thoughts are with the few ballet conductors who have the courage to reverse centuries of ballet tradition, who work hard to prioritize dancers over dances, artists over art, workers over work”, Chloé Angyal, the author of “Turning Pointe: How a new generation of dancers saves ballet from itself » wrote in an online essay.

In her article, Jennings suggests that Scarlett was reproducing her own experiences of abuse, citing an anonymous Royal Ballet dancer who described Scarlett’s actions as “learned behavior.” The implications of these arguments are systemic dysfunctional power dynamics in the ballet world that go beyond a single case.

These dynamics are not new in ballet – or in any field where, as Jennings puts it, “isolation from the outside world and a highly competitive atmosphere create conditions in which the powerful can relate to the young by. all impunity “.

What has changed, in ballet and elsewhere, is the power of social media to convey information at lightning speed, amplify voices and acquire the power to condemn. Despite the Royal Ballet’s silence on why Scarlett left, the social media chatter was enough to establish widespread judgment and rumors about her actions.

Zelensky, who seems insensitive to such judgments – he hired star dancer Sergei Polunin when other companies wouldn’t after Polunin abruptly left the Royal Ballet and made provocative statements about liking drugs – said he didn’t ask his dancers what they thought they were working with Scarlett or performing her ballet, and that the company had not encountered any negative reaction from the media or the public.

And some of her dancers have expressed support for the staging of Scarlett’s work. “I feel, who are you to judge someone else, especially when you have no knowledge?” said Laurretta Summerscales, a principal dancer, who added that she had had “a really good time” working with Scarlett when she was a member of the English National Ballet and was happy to work with it again. him when he came to stage the ballet the last time. year.

Madeleine Dowdeny, a member of the corps de ballet, who had worked with Scarlett at the Royal Ballet School, said the dancers “tried to be very professional”. They knew “there could be discussions” about working with him, she said. “But it was out of our control.”

The two dancers spoke about Scarlett’s musicality and the pleasure of dancing “With a Chance of Rain”, an elegiac work for eight dancers on six Rachmaninoff preludes and an elegy for piano. The play, first premiered for the American Ballet Theater in 2014, has no discernible narrative, but a shirtless man (Emilio Pavan) who first moves around the middle of the ensemble scattered across a stage. dark, is an enigmatic central figure around whom the action seems to crystallize and dissolve.

Scarlett’s skill at creating complex and ever-changing groups with flawless fluidity is remarkable, as is the inventiveness of working in partnership. The final sections are more melancholy; a double pas de deux turns into a duet that ends on a note of uncertainty – on a darkening stage, Pavan stretches his hand forward imploringly with a woman at his feet.

A ballet can be several things and have several meanings: personal, public, symbolic, unconscious. There will undoubtedly be more conversations in the dance world about the relevance of performing Scarlett’s work in the future. Did Bayerisches Staatsballett lead the way? Will the death of the choreographer soften the public’s perceptions? Who has a second chance? The time and the schedule will tell us.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/ressources for a list of additional resources.

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Newsrust - US Top News: After the suicide of a choreographer, the ballet faces difficult questions
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