UK artist banned in Denmark is found dead at 35

UK artist banned in Denmark is found dead at 35


norman lebrecht

April 17, 2021

The British choreographer Liam Scarlett, banned yesterday in Copenhagen after claims of sexual abuse, has been found dead at home at the age of 35.

Scarlett had been ousted from the Royal Opera in London after similar allegations.

His family said: ‘It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam. 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 Royal Opera House tweeted: ‘We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Liam Scarlett’s death. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this very sad time.’

Kasper Holten, head of Denmark’s Royal Theatre said: ‘We are deeply touched by news of Liam Scarlett’s death. Our thoughts go to his bereaved. Our focus is now on our employees and on helping and supporting them in the coming time.’

Scarlett joined the Royal Ballet as a dancer in 2006 and became resident choreographer in 2012. He was an innovative creator whose works include the 2018 production of Swan Lake.

UPDATE: Two opera houses face questions


  • Sad day says:

    Cowardly words by an institution whose inquest found no evidence to corroborate the allegations made against him, and yet who felled his career regardless.

    Institutions have duties both to the accuser and to the accused, especially when the latter’s guilt isn’t proven and when the former’s motive may be bad faith.

    By attacking this fragile situation with a bludgeon, both the ROH and KGL are complicit in this man’s death.

  • Sharon says:

    What a shame.

  • HSY says:

    > It said an independent investigation into his behaviour had “found there were no matters to pursue in relation to alleged contact with students of the Royal Ballet School”.

    Royal Ballet is perhaps legally within its right to sever all connections with Scarlett, including cancelling scheduled performances of his ballet Symphonic Dances, in order to “protect its reputation”, even though its own investigations have yielded no matters to pursue. They will claim they did nothing wrong. The only way to make sure they think twice before making the same mistake in the future is to make it perfectly clear to them that their reputation is forever tarnished by driving one of the most promising choreographers of his generation to death on flimsy evidence. Royal Opera House has blood on its hand.

  • Maria says:

    We are deeply touched? What a very strange turn of phrase in British English to apply to a suicide – which is used applied to someone giving you a surprise birthday present. May Liam rest in peace and his family supported.

  • Nijinsky says:

    This is very sad. EXTREMELY so. I don’t know what went on. But I know that it’s a bit too easy to accuse anyone of anything the #metoo movement will give whoever awards for.
    Everywhere it says allegations of sexual misconduct with the Royal ballet, but those were looked into, and they found nothing to take action on. And then there are further “accusations.”

    Again, I don’t know what’s going on, but It really is starting to seem in cases more a fashion than truth, which might be happening anywhere by now. And there’s a whole mob of people that so urgently need to be heroes they wouldn’t know what the truth is. And if stuff doesn’t add up the way you want, just go get antidepressants.” Same as if there’s difficulty at work, and there’s some loss felt, which comes out one is showing signs of depression, would what’s really going on be acknowledged and one not do what’s expected of one, not feel one has to follow the moral fashion that might have gone out of control. Dowse the sadness whose intelligence might see what’s going on.

    Woody Allen for example. AGAIN something that was looked into, and nothing was found.

    And Mia Farrow is free to change her story, even in a documentary (highlighted in the link below). And when two of her children committed suicide (one which she denies), and then a third dies of Aids related causes in poverty — who also was Andre Previn’s child, who refused to pay for Soon Yi’s education after she made her own choices, said in the media that she was dead to him, and then later married Anne-Sophie Mutter with comparable age difference, and Mia has a nice history causing distress when her getting sexually involved with Andre lead to his wife being put in an asylum. And it’s Mia’s brother who is in jail for child molestation. Recently it was discovered that in the documentary there was a picture with one of the children that committed suicide removed from it which caused the issue to come up that the child whose image had been removed from the picture had died and Moses shares very clearly how it was suicide, and Mia goes back to denying the suicide, and then talks about “vicious accusations from Moses (one blog, that’s all, where he tells his story) and puts herself forth as some empathetic mother (two of her children have nothing to do with her anymore and have after years quietly told their own story because they have gone on with their life and are healing, and have better things to do to get caught in the media grind with its obsessions; two further committed suicide, and another dies of Aids related causes in poverty; that isn’t relevant as to her parenting?). And she doesn’t at all address Moses extremely clear stories of how she would believe something happened that hadn’t, accuse him of it, become vicious did he not believe he had done something he hadn’t at all, and how she would violently coach him to act (and believe) as if it had. And the courts decided Dylan showed signs of that as well. Dylan who also was in therapy for living in a fantasy world. Moses very clearly delineates how Mia thought he did things he hadn’t at all, and she most likely was on anti-depressants that can cause such fixations. She wouldn’t even know what the truth was anymore. Again, I don’t know what happened with Liam, but one doesn’t know anymore whether such behavior is behind accusations. And here stuff that’s right next to the whole source of the metoo movement. And it’s extremely sad, and there’s great loss, as we see now again, regardless of what happened.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Dear Nikinsky, could you possibly expand?

      • Nijinsky says:

        I shared an example of how someone’s life can be ruined by media manipulations regarding an other who seems to have committed suicide for the same reasons, no that isn’t expanding out of context. Poking fun by misspelling someone’s name who dares to break media codes making valid comparisons would be where “kink” lies. THAT says nothing. A synthetic intelligence program responding could do the same. Or any coward that spends their time getting their Jolie’s ridiculing others.

      • Nijinsky says:

        “La plus belle voix!?” Do you do that at funerals too? Make veiled mean-spirited remarks meant to humiliate anyone whose expression of loss transcends the self imposed blinders you’ve put, which everyone else is supposed to also take on? In case you’ve forgotten this blog is about the loss of a major promising creative talent.

      • Nijinsky says:

        I could actually expand also, come to think of it. Regarding how such a climate comes into being that might have lead to Liam’s life ending.

        Ronan Farrow who lead so much of the whole metoo movement, his mother had his legs lengthened three inches because “A politician has to be tall,” that to me does the opposite than validate anyone’s views or the truth of what they bring forth. Truth completely in no way depends on such things. And although there’s no question that there were a whole slue of things that should have come out ages ago, regarding the metoo movement, Ronan has also contributed to the extent that it’s gone overboard beyond that, and quite a bit of the rest of the world sees right through it and the kind of moralistic frenzy, unquestioned heroics and image games that run American politics. I also don’t know if there’s any other country where someone’s well wishing mother has their legs lengthened so they can succeed in politics. I don’t even know what to say about it, and you can see it whenever he walks on stage. I feel sorry for anyone that was made to believe such pretense is necessary, and I don’t see how a true thorough ability to really work out what’s going on beyond image and marketing urgency would be the result. Which is mentioned in the New York Times article linked below.

        And you have the collateral damage from such image games that evoke the kind of knee jerk responses where has an institution not taken drastic measures they’re seen as irresponsible, as one sees here now once again, and the loss of such talent.

        Same goes for Woody Allen. And for me there’s too much going on for me to believe in the abuse allegations. Which given the climate around it takes more courage to say than jumping on the “bandwagon.”

        I don’t even really believe that the present penal system would change things. I’m crazy enough to believe what Jesus taught, and that when you judge another person, you fail to see that you or anyone else could have ended up with the momentum that lead to what you judge. You have to look at cause or simply forgive, not perpetuate a system that glorifies morality, quakes a whole of section the population to know how to hurt others to control them through the mind control of fear believing that gives a person what they want; and then differentiates itself from those it judges who basically follow the same ideology that fear an violence is necessary to get what you want.

  • Balletomane says:

    The Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House have blood on their hands today. How quick they were to remove all trace of Liam Scarlett’s prodigious talent following an apparently groundless accusation of inappropriate behaviour. Anybody can say anything they want about someone these days and there is a presumption of guilt rather than innocence. You accusers out there should think long and hard about the consequences of such actions before you open your big mouths. You know who you are and those in particular who drove Liam Scarlett to take his own life may you live with this guilt for many years ahead. Shame on you and on all who turned their back on him.

    • SVM says:

      No, it is Boris who has blood on his hands. His protracted lockdown policy is costing far more lives than it is saving, and causing incalculably more harm than it is preventing.

      Whilst the rescission of a professional engagement may well be a trigger for depression, that does not make the act of rescinding an engagement wrong /ipso facto/. Losing engagements is not nice (whatever the reason), but it is something with which any serious freelance artist has to learn to cope. I simply do not know enough about the specific case to pass judgement on the propriety or otherwise of the decisions to rescind the specific engagements under discussion.

      But it is reasonable to suppose that lockdown will have aggravated the misery of losing professional engagements, and we should reserve our outrage for the cowardly politicians who refuse to see sense about how to deal with the risks of COVID-19 in a proportionate manner (or who do see sense, but are too cowardly to admit that they got it wrong), taking into account the growing evidence that lockdowns cause enormous harm and that any public-health benefit of a lockdown occurs overwhelmingly within the first few weeks (after which any benefit from continuing lockdown becomes negligible or non-existent… some eminent scientists have gone further, and argued that long lockdowns are a net negative even on the sole criterion of controlling a pandemic).

  • Sam McElroy says:

    To be publicly shamed, lose your job, lose your potential to find other jobs, have contracts cancelled (not to mention the Covid context)… That’s a hell of a punishment, so hard to take that this man presumably ended his life. And yet, what was the offense commensurate with the punishment? We have lost all sense of proportionality, perspective and due process in this mad new world of ours. Not to mention the moral incoherence between what offends us and what doesn’t. The mere accusation of sexual impropriety – in which a pat on the backside and a rape claim hold equal gravity in terms of their consequences to the accused – result in the immediate loss of a career. Serving a UNHRC-sanctioned regime’s propaganda wing for well over a decade – and getting very rich doing so – gets you the musical directorship of the Paris Opera. Our collective moral code seems to be arbitrated by flavor-of-the-day causes. Touching is out. Collaborating with murderous dictatorial regimes is in. It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s genial commentary in “Slaughterhouse 5” on human hypocrisy. The mass-murdering robot was forgiven everything, except it’s halitosis.

    • The View from America says:

      Welcome to the “new Puritanism” — not all that much different from the old one.

    • V.Lind says:

      I’m well aware of Mr. McElroy’s views on Venezuela, and his disapproval of Mr. Dudamel. But I find the allusion to him in comparison to the tragic death of Mr. Scarlett somewhat distasteful. And surprising: Mr. McElroy has always fought his corner in this forum, but usually more fairly. To drag Mr. Dudamel into an unrelated story, with different sources of unhappiness, seems invidious.

      • Sam McElroy says:

        Dear old adversary, V.Lind,
        I read the Paris Opera pieces and the Liam Scarlett pieces in the same sitting – which I limit these days to weekly visits, at best. Reading both stories side-by-side, I was compelled to zoom out at the prevailing moral landscape broadly, from which vantage point I could observe, along with many, an intolerable hypocrisy. It is a moral landscape whose incoherence permits, on the one hand, a radically absolutist condemnation – to death by shaming, in Mr. Scarlett’s case – of anyone accused of anything within the vast domain of sexual aggression, while exercising, on the other, elastic utilitarianism when assessing the moral character of conductors riding shotgun with brutal dictators. This incoherence in the moral landscape, so glaringly present in the classical music industry, is – in my view – worthy of commentary. I wholly reject the conveniently profitable, utilitarian moral view in which professional musical competence is offered as absolution when overlooking, at best, or pardoning, at worst, a conductor’s willing, knowing, self-enriching, opportunistic association with mass-murderous regimes. I see nothing invidious at all about that universal approach to the current moral order, one which I find to ebb and flow conveniently, but incoherently, between moral systems, according to the dictates of trending political mantras. On the contrary, it might encourage the classical music world to deepen its relationship with ethical philosophy generally. For far too long, the deeds of corrupt men have been shielded by the shallow, seductive glow of their art and celebrity. It is time for deeper thinking, I’m afraid, and anyone whose ultimate moral purpose is the alleviation of human suffering ought to find no argument with me. Greetings, Sam.

        • V.Lind says:

          Perhaps, but you are asking the impossible in this rackety world we inhabit. After all, there are many Russian musicians who shamelessly support the Putin regime, which is at least morally questionable in its seeming quest for permanence and ruling over borders of its own choosing. And there are doubtless other at least questionable regimes some of whose artists are happily associated with those in power, to their profit.

          To pick out one whose particular association is of particular offence to you in relation to a personal tragedy just struck me as a bit arbitrary, but your explanation of why it happened to be in your mind at that moment explains it, to some extent.

          I accept your wider analysis; it is just the post that I was cavilling at, and still think I would.

          Liam Scarlett’s story is a sad one, and explanations are due (and, if other such cases are anything to go by, will not be forthcoming). I think my contexts for considering his story are also a consequence of other things I have read here, putting all this on the Me Too movement and the media, and the ROH. From what I have read, it looks pretty unlikely that women were much involved, and the media I have read, including the first posting here about the Danish cancellation, have tended to be circumspect.

          As for the ROH: students, presumably some under age, were involved in the initial complaint, and there was an independent inquiry. All details have been withheld, and the ROH seems to have felt that ceasing relations with Mr, Scarlett, and stating that there was nothing to pursue, would finish the matter discreetly. It is possible that withdrawing production of all his ballets, except his reworking of Swan Lake, was due to the fact that in all but the latter his presence would be necessary. It is a drastic resolution, but companies around the world have been criticised in recent years for shutting too many blind eyes at too many situations where a person was making others uncomfortable in their workplaces, and they did not always rise to the level of criminality. In the case of young people at the RBS, their duty of care was all the greater.

          Other companies followed suit, and it very much began to look as if despair at the ruination of the only career, in the only world, he had ever known, set in for young Mr. Scarlett. But I have found no more reason to blame socio-political attitudes or media coverage than to ask whether he took advantage of his position and the admiration in which he was held to overstep the mark with his young charges. So when you are considering moral contexts, you might include the moral behaviour of some of the people who have been called to account in recent years. MeToo did not arise out of nothing, and organisations are scrambling to clean up situations they ignored for all too long.

          As for Dudamel: I don’t follow his doings or utterances with the — shall we say — devotion that you do, but having spent a great deal of time with artists of the National Ballet of Cuba, including the late Alicia Alonso, I am familiar with people who mean it when they refer to “el triunfo de la revolución.” They saw it as a release from a brutal kleptocracy. Perhaps in Abreu and El Sistema Dudamel saw something similar, which eventually drew him into the orbits of Chavez and Maduro. He seems to have distanced himself from them in recent years, to the point of taking out another citizenship and living far away. People can grow and learn — and change. Forgiveness and understanding are also parts of a moral compass.

          It would be astonishing to scratch very deeply into most of our lives without lighting upon some moral imperfections. And very unlikely that if we held all artists to perfect moral standards that we would have any art at all. Throughout history. Great art (and much more) has been produced by what we now identify as racists, anti-Semites, rapists, spies, crooks, people of every conceivable human perversion.

          Moral, social, political, sexual, mores change and evolve, and we have the right to demand that our artists — and athletes and politicians and even artistic administrators — evolve with them. And ourselves — we must not allow a culture of complaint to get to the point that, as you said, a pat on the backside is equated with a rape claim. It IS a mad new world — and not entirely because of Me Too or even BLM.

          But I still think there is a qualitative difference between political compliance and personal behaviour.

          What is clear here is that, for reasons still known only to themselves, several institutions have ceased to engage with one of the most talented artists of his generation, and that it seems to have triggered his taking the ultimate step. It raises the serious question within us all as to how we judge others, and what we say about them, and how we consider the consequences of our words and deeds. In that, I think we are on the same page.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Let’s not rush to judgment of any party involved here. That ROH statement was clearly very carefully worded and probably negotiated. The facts will no doubt be complicated and nuanced. now is a time to reflect on the sad, tragic outcome for this young man and his family and friends.

  • Hilary says:

    A tragedy of monumental proportions.

  • Thinking aloud says:

    What a terrible waste of a talented young man’s life.
    But the death of Liam Scarlett needs to be a wake up call to all men.
    Regrettably the “Me-Too Movement “ has become a vehicle for women, who feel they have not received the promotion/role they deserve or who are annoyed/upset by some comment made to them by a man, to ruin the man’ s career. The man is then named and accused, usually anonymously, of sexual misconduct a number of years, or in some cases, many years later, instead of dealing with the misconduct at the relevant time. In Scarlett’s case the accusations are from 2018 and 2019.
    An enquiry is usually the result and often no misconduct is found to have taken place, as at ROH.
    But the named accused finds his whole world comes tumbling down and he loses his reputation and often his job. Meanwhile the accusers go merrily along their way without a strain on their characters because nobody outside the organisation knows who they are, but they have had their revenge. This looks to have been case with Liam Scarlett.
    Other organisations then caste out the accused, partly because they do not want “Me-Too” to come knocking on their doors or just to virtue signal how very virtuous they are.
    If, as looks probable, Scarlett took his own life, what a condemnation that the organisations where these accusations were made did nothing to protect or support him.
    As Sad Day says above these organisations have a duty of care both to the accused and accusers. Too often only the accusers are protected.

    And before I receive a lot of flack for standing up for men, I write this as a women.

  • Vissi d’arte says:

    I agree with you totally Thinking Aloud. A few years ago a man I know at an American opera company was accused of inappropriate behaviour by a mezzo soprano who remained anonymous. Even though no evidence was found to support this accusation he was told that it would be better if he resigned from his post which he felt obliged to do. It turned out that the accuser was a disgruntled singer who had been overlooked for a job and she simply sought revenge. This is all too commonplace these days and opera and ballet companies really need to think long and hard before they take the side of the accuser. The pendulum has swung too far the other way and there needs to be a correction or else we are all going to live in fear.