Alastair Macaulay: Questions arising from the death of Liam Scarlett

Alastair Macaulay: Questions arising from the death of Liam Scarlett

Comment Of The Day

norman lebrecht

April 25, 2021

The former chief dance critic of the New York Times has previously expressed concerns on about the rush to cancel Liam Scarlett’s productions after the young choreographer’s dismissal and tragic death.

Here, in a new longform essay on his own site, Alastair assembles the known facts and analyses the cancel culture in the ballet world:

Scarlett’s death raises many important issues. Foremost has been a widespread unease about the way that many dance companies have been seeming to hush up various scandals or crises that purportedly involve a range of alarming sexual matters, heterosexual and homosexual, adult and under-age, on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as cases of violent assault. How truly “independent” was the inquiry that, at the Royal Ballet in 2020, found “there were no matters to pursue” about Scarlett? What real “independence” was there in the inquiry, at New York City Ballet in 2018, found that accusations against Peter Martins were “not corroborated”? Scarlett and Martins have been two of the larger number of male artists who have resigned or have been removed from their posts in recent years – and yet in no case has the company in question given a satisfactory explanation. 

At New York City Ballet, Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro were reinstated after the charges made against them in Alexandra Waterbury’s 2018 lawsuit – though Catazaro chose not to rejoin his former company. In 2020, the judge in the Waterbury case dropped charges against both those men. Since it’s therefore possible that those two – and some others – were truly innocent of the allegations that removed them, isn’t it time that dance companies instituted systems of accountability? These should operate in several ways. Should dance institutions establish and publish the rules of behavior to which they require their dancers and staff to conform? And should they likewise explain why they are severing connections with certain artists?

The answers are not simple. The Royal Ballet’s “there were no matters to pursue” announcement of March 23, 2020 did too little to clear up the rumours surrounding Scarlett. By contrast, Holten’s announcement of April 16, 2021 was far more specific about “offensive behavior” and about the Royal Danish Ballet’s concern for “the safety and well-being of its artists.” Were Scarlett still alive, his reputation would have been definitively sullied. Holten has close connections to Covent Garden, where he worked for years earlier this century. Why did the British company say nothing of Scarlett’s behavior while the Danish one called it “offensive”?

This brings us to discussions of what is now known as “cancel culture”….


Read on here.


Arnold Böcklin’s Totinsel, one of Liam Scarlett’s last inspirations.


  • Petros Linardos says:

    The same painting inspired Rachmaninoff to compose his eponymus orchestral tone poem. The second of the painting’s four extant versions is at the MET (museum…).

  • Cathy Sweetman says:

    We wont ever know to what extent Liam Scarlett was involved in the sexual exploitation of young dancers. Most of us who love and appreciate ballet as an art form are sorry that we have now lost one of our most renowned and creative choreographers with all the untapped potential he offered. As with certain other successful artists, we should not let our love of the art form excuse inexcusable behaviour…but only those who were “victims” will know the truth and how much they have been affected by the experience. We cannot judge, but only for sad and sorry for all parties involved.

  • mary says:

    I just knew it, when Macauley started citing the Greeks and pederasty in apologia of Scarlett’s behavior, iit came as no surprise, it just confirmed everything I suspected from the undertone of his outrage.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    How hypocritical and ironic for the New York Times to be writing this. They, of all media, have fanned the flames of cancel culture, seeing the world entirely from the victim/oppressor narrative. A discredited rag, if ever there was one.

    • Couperin says:

      Guess you haven’t only not read the article, but haven’t read the SD post. Macaulay is not at the Times anymore. This is his own damn writing on his own damn website where he is free to have his own damn opinion, whether you like it or not.

  • Patrick John Gordon Shaw says:

    A truly tragic victim of the cancel culture!
    I do hope the Royal Opera House will organise a Gala to honour his singular contribution to the Royal Ballet!

  • Minutewaltz says:

    Any accusation today is enough to get someone cancelled.
    There is a booming drama industry in Korea and recently the private texts of a very successful actress were made public. These texts to her actor boyfriend demanded among other things that he had scenes of physical contact with his co star in his latest show removed. The texts were pretty grim but nonetheless they were supposed to be private.
    Then she was accused of being a bully at school and rude to staff on set.
    Other staff members came to her defence but it wasn’t enough.
    She has been dropped from her latest drama and most of her advertising campaigns and goodness knows if her career will recover.
    Surely, whatever the accused’s profession – actor, choreographer, musician, whatever – mere accusations should not be enough to cancel someone.
    If they are found guilty then punishment is in order but public opinion should not be the court.

  • MWnyc says:

    I had taken — and still take — the Royal Ballet’s “no matters to pursue” statement, combined with Scarlett’s dismissal, to mean “Yes, Scarlett engaged in inappropriate behavior, but he did nothing that actually broke the law and the complainants are content with his departure from the company and see no need for further action.”