Alastair Macaulay: On not cancelling Liam Scarlett

Alastair Macaulay: On not cancelling Liam Scarlett


norman lebrecht

April 19, 2021

The former New York Times ballet critic surveys the aftermath of a dance world disaster in a post for Slippedisc:

I’m assured by people who first knew choreographer Liam Scarlett in the last century that the details surrounding his death are known to very few. We should not assume, as many have done, that “Cancel culture” was the determining factor.

It’s also worth noting that, when a number of companies terminated their associations with Liam Scarlett in 2019-2020, not all followed suit In October 2020, he went to Munich to stage his “With a Chance of Rain” (2014) for the Bayerische Staatsballett. A British dancer there has written that his behaviour was nothing but professional, and that he impressed all as having learned from his errors and as happy to be given the chance to move on. The Royal New Zealand Ballet also announced that it would revive his “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (2015) at Christmas 2021. I attach press statements by both these companies (6, 5). I also attach (7) the original – baffling – March 23, 2020, press statement by the Royal Ballet that severed the company’s dealings with Scarlett while assuring us that “There were no matters to pursue with Royal Ballet students”.

All this makes it all the more vile that some voices on social media have rushed to assume the worst of the behaviour that led to Scarlett’s downfall at the Royal Ballet. Sanctimoniously and aggressively, a number of people, undeterred by his recent death, have denounced any silence about his behaviour as symptomatic of the favour automatically doled out to white, male, figures of power who are guilty of predatory, heinous, sexual abuse, despite their ignorance of whatever Scarlett may have done and despite the Royal Ballet’s 2020 statement. (I have my own cancel culture when I hear from those vindictive and censorious new puritans: I block them.) Let’s only have art by the virtuous! Let’s have more art by those who are as smugly virtuous as ourselves! No art by sinners for us!

Simply, very few people indeed know what led to Scarlett’s downfall at the Royal Ballet (I, too, have heard extensive rumours, but they are just rumours), and fewer people know the circumstances immediately leading to his tragic death. (He died in his home town, Ipswich, Suffolk, a place I have known all my life.) He is being widely remembered as an important choreographer, and, with great affection, as an engaging and friendly dance professional. Some who believed in his creative talent went on presenting and/or programming his choreography during the past year. I agree that there are powerful white men who are sexually abusive, whose injurious behaviour is covered up by the system, and whose victims suffer – but I do not have the information to qualify Scarlett as one of these.

During the 2019-2020 period of inquiry into his alleged offences, the Royal Ballet never dropped his production of “Swan Lake” (2018), which was the last thing it danced before the March 2020 lockdown. Somehow, after the inquiry, the company saw fit to announce the cancellation of its 2020 revival of his “Symphonic Dances” (2017) while continuing with his “Swan Lake”. Why?

One factor is that it was easier to keep his “Swan Lake” going without him returning to rehearse it. Another factor was that the staging was so extremely and showily expensive that the company could not face also cancelling that. For those of us who found it deeply foolish, this continuance in repertory is distasteful. For those who admired it, its return will be a consolation.

Monday 19 April.



  • M says:

    yes, and i thank you for publishing this.

  • FrankUSA says:

    As of my posting my comment,no one else has commented. I have a few thoughts.

    More and more individual posts about Liam Scarlett so that responses and comments are getting spread out far and wide.

    I know of Mr.Macaulay from his time as a NY Times dance critic.

    I am completely confused about his decisions to use “cancel-cancel culture “ in terms of the situation with Liam Scarlett.

    We have seen the development of three new terms in the last couple of years. “Cancel-culture”. “Woke” and a term more popular in the UK..”Iliberal.” These three words have impact if you lean to the right or to the left on the political spectrum. I find that these three words have become very fashionable. I find that those on the right side political spectrum tend to use them more often. IMHO,I hope they will go out of fashion.(Btw,the word “illiberal” constantly reminds me of Piers Morgan.

    • Donna Ross says:

      There’s another term you left out, “virtue signaling”. The right trots that out frequently to disparage those they perceive as pretentious, left wing do-gooders. Maybe virtue signal is more common on this side of the pond.

  • anonymous says:

    Scarlett should not be cancelled for lack of proof, but nor should he be NOT cancelled for lack of talent.

    That is to say, “cancel culture” assumes that what is being cancelled has already been firmly established in the canon because of its enduring merits, and that “cancel culture” comes along and cancels it on grounds other than merit.

    Scarlett’s choretography is neither innovative nor interesting, it is popular, the Andrew Lloyd Weber of ballet for sure. Is it really “canelling” if his ballets shouldn’t or couldn’t endure the test of time anyway?

  • Tancredi says:

    Sick of the pejorative use of ‘white’ male: Europeans are in general white, just as Africans are, in general, black.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      How about “male of non-color”, or “colorless male”? Personally, I’d like to see them go all George Carlin on everyone, and just call white males “honkies” and “crackers”, like in the good-old days. I think all this sensitivity needs a new Don Rickles in the house.

      • Danseur says:

        Pale skin please.
        I am Asian I we do not call our fellow bros ‘yellows’.
        If you aren’t ‘of color / colour’ then you must be ….

        Go to any retail cosmetics section and look at the range of foundation products. The only ‘white’ foundation is pancake white… for clowns, Geisha, Chinese opera performers and Parisian mimes. The rest of the foundation make up has pigments.

        Color as race coding is a dscredited Eurocentric notion.

        So P.O.C. (the initials) discriminates based on skin tones that are ‘non-white’. It is a euphemism for a dominant community to ‘other’ communities who have different pigmentation.

        We should now retire colorism, ‘POC’, and other concepts that centre ‘whiteness’ (and thus colonialism and privilege). That way people with pale skin (which reddens or darkens) won’t feel picked on by the pejorative use of ‘white’.