Two opera houses face questions about Liam Scarlett’s death

Two opera houses face questions about Liam Scarlett’s death


norman lebrecht

April 18, 2021

The gifted British choreographer, found dead at home this weekend at the age of 35, was banned by the Royal Opera House in January this year, ‘amid claims of sexual misconduct with students’.

On Friday, he was fired in absentia by the Royal Theater in Copenhagen following further complains from with the Danish ballet comminuty.

Both houses have questions to answer.

The ROH was said to have ignored internal allegations about Liam for 10 years. Was this the case? If so, was anyone held to account?

When Liam was fired in January, was he offered counselling and a course of action to amend his previous conduct? Was he given hope?

He did not, so far as is known, contest his dismissal. Did the ROH buy his silence.

Kaspar Holten, who runs the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, will have known Liam from his previous role as head of the Royal Opera in London. Did the Danes factor in his London career when booking his Frankenstein ballet. Were the terms of his cancellation given to Liam in person with all the approproate precautions? Was the door left open for him to return at some point in the future?

These are delicate issues of human and professional conduct that a coroner will wish to examine.

UPDATE: Alastair Macaulay: On not cancelling Liam Scarlett



  • Andreas B. says:

    One might also want to consider the role of media reporting …

    • Karl says:

      I don’t know about other countries, but in the US it is very hard to stop the media from reporting fake news. The Supreme Court has ruled that, in order to successfully sue news organizations for libel, public officials had to prove “actual malice.” That means the journalist either knowingly published false information or did so with “reckless disregard” for the truth.

  • R Hunter says:

    Quote from Sky News. “Scarlett’s position with The Royal Ballet ended last year, when the Royal Opera House, which is home to the Royal Ballet Company, said that an independent investigation had concluded.

    The artist-in-residence was investigated over claims of sexual misconduct involving students but the investigation concluded there “were no matters to pursue in relation to alleged contact with students of The Royal Ballet School”.”

    I think this should be noted.

    • David B says:

      Also note that “no matters to pursue” is substantially different from “found no evidence of wrongdoing.”

      It’s possible the investigation did find improprieties and, as part of an agreement, Liam decided to/was forced to leave. If that is what happened then that also would put ROH in a situation where they could factually claim there were “no matters to pursue”. I.e., Liam was leaving, nothing else to do, the matter is closed.

      That the Royal Ballet School did not give a statement of support but said they would no longer work with Liam in the future, also should be noted.

      The ROH is not cutting ties with a rising superstar based on nothing.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        This kind of behaviour will continue from organizations until the very day their bottom lines are attacked because of the casual authoritarianism and hypocrisy of the secular puritanism of the Left.

      • christopher storey says:

        David B : your post is arrant nonsense, consisting exclusively as it does of speculative drivel . Since he is now dead, you are safe, but if he had been alive a libel writ would have been highly likely, and NL would have loved you for that

      • Maria says:

        Depends on your use of English and where you come from as to whether those phrases are the same or different. Certainly being ‘touched’ by his death, as in the official announcement’ is a not an appropriate phrase to use about anyone’s suicide!

      • FrankUSA says:

        An unfortunate truth. Arts organizations will cut ties ruthlessly at a whiff of controversy

  • RIP Liam says:

    Yes, all relevant questions.

    The agents of this situation, the ROH and Royal Theatre, pressed these allegations for reasons they chose not to disclose and The Times reported them with impunity. Their actions engineered the circumstances that led to Liam’s suicide. Their role needs investigation.

    The duplicity of the ROH, who accused yet denied having evidence of misconduct; and who, when an investigation returned “no matters to pursue,” cancelled his productions regardless – except for his Swan Lake, which was too big of a money spinner to part with – should be held to account.

    Scarlett was also trained within the Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet School from a very young age. Learned behaviours native to, and common within, that system should be reassessed.

    Lessons need to be learned, and steps need to be taken, to ensure the mistakes that led to this man’s death never happen again.

    • La plus belle voix says:

      Quite. But of course the “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” paradigm plays a role too. Best practice is probably to investigate and not announce that fact to the press.

    • Cathy Holmes says:

      Perfectly said!!

  • jt says:

    One might also want to consider that we do not know why he killed himself

  • FrankUSA says:

    First of all,it is tragic and incomprehensible that any human being found them self in such a dark and hopeless situation that they felt the only choice they had was to end their life. Incomprehensible.
    Liam Scarlett was facing issues of sexual mischief. Several weeks ago,another figure passed away(from natural causes) who also was facing issues of sexual misconduct. That person was James Levine. The comments about Liam Scarlett and James Levine are polar opposites. Levine was excoriated,crucified on this blog. The owner of this blog posted an extremely long post from conductor Kenneth Woods. Both James Levine and Liam Scarlett were facing issues of sexual misconduct. Levine was able to live out his life apparently with a impenetrable wall of protection going over decades. Scarlett ended his life at his own
    hands with the “recent” allegations. Or maybe it was not recent. Nobody knows. That is the common theme. Nobody knows. Levine was excoriated,crucified on this blog. Scarlett has been treated on this blog as being mistreated. I smell a whiff of hypocrisy. Actually,it’s more than a whiff. There is an overwhelming stench of hypocrisy.
    No one knows any facts about either case. I certainly don’t know. The accusations could have been true. Or maybe not. Have there been any criminal investigations in either case. Any formal charges Any names?
    Most species have sexual reproduction to maintain the species. With most animals,it is a question of instinct or purest natural forces at work. With human beings,their is the primal instinct but,supposedly,a higher purpose. It is romantically called “Love.” Let’s face a common fact. Human beings have sex. Human beings are sexual animals. It is an (almost) omnipresent thought. A human being can become a monk or decide to be celibate but their sexual being does not disappear. It is always there.
    So,how is this to be dealt with. First,since this is an “arts” blog I will address arts organizations. Hopefully,all arts organizations,no matter how small or big,have some type of policy. Whether that policy is fair,unfair,effective,ineffective is a different question. Any organization,the arts or corporate and All organization have to come face to face with that whenever a group of human beings meet,the issue of sexual attraction will be present. How is all of this to be handled.
    First of all,if there is any possibility of sexual criminal activity,then local police etc have to be notified and those authorities should fully handle the situation. However,what happens when a situation arises that may not be seen as criminal. It is seen as “unethical” however that is defined. That is the nightmare that many organizations are facing. That seems to be the situation with Liam Scarlett. And possibly even with James Levine. And many others as well. No names. No facts. Just vague PR announcements. Any Arts organization just does not have the innate capability to deal with these issues and these issues will continue. They will continue in all other organizations.
    There has to be a new approach. In the US,there is a basic legal foundation of “innocent until proven guilty.” However,when it comes to any sexual misconduct allegations,the inverse has become the standard. It has become “guilty until proven innocent.”
    I don’t know the answers. But I feel the present situation is inadequate

    • mvarcoe says:

      We have – or maybe had – the majestic legal principle “innocent until proven guilty” in the UK, as in the US. Here in the UK the media – press, television and social – have collaborated to virtually extinguish this cornerstone of our legal system, usually in the interests of the media, rarely in the interests of justice.

    • Ashu says:

      To the shallow-hearted.

  • sbsb says:

    Welcome to witch-hunt, #metoo edition

  • Tim says:

    Can’t wait for the ROH collaborations with Domingo and Grigolo!

    • Alviano says:

      But didn’t the ROH ban Grigolo because of the rumor of an indiscretion during a curtain call on the other side of the world? Or do I have my facts wrong?

    • mvarcoe says:

      In an interview in Times2 on 23 March, Oliver Mears, director of opera at Covent Garden, said: “Plácido has a long-standing and rich association with the opera house going back many decades and we’re currently discussing what form any future collaboration might take either next season or beyond that.” The only reason must be that, although well past his “sell-by” date, Domingo is box sure-fire office bonanza.

      By contrast, the Royal Opera has indicated it won’t be performing any of Scarlett’s works in the future EXCEPT the sure-fire money-spinner that is Swan Lake, we can only assume because of the cost of a new production! Can anyone see some ironies here?

  • Sharon says:

    A number of years ago a friend of my father’s who was psychologist at a university, was accused of sexual misconduct because he hugged and kissed a student in a non sexual way. It made the local papers for weeks and although he ultimately won a lawsuit he STILL ended up being fired.

    Some people are very sensitive to being touched in even the most innocent way while others believe it’s perfectly o.k.

    Bureaucracies of all kinds have very detailed policy and procedure manuals just to take the guesswork out of as many employee conduct situations, of all types, as possible. My employer, the state of New York, makes it very clear as to what is considered sexual harrassment and what is not. In fact we have a required class on it that involves quizzing us in various scenarios and asking us “Is this harrassment?”

    Arts organizations need to do this also. Nothing is foolproof but if the rules are as crystal clear as possible it might prevent a lot of situations like Scarlett’s.

    Although those were very different times if Levine was initially checked as a music professor in the midwest in his mid twenties because the official boundaries were made very clear in institutional policy his life story might have ended very differently.

    I worked for 10 years in child support enforcement and I learned that many problems in relationships were caused by the parties not setting a clear agenda that was mutually agreed upon in the beginning, leading to differing expectations and huge disappointments and feelings of betrayal. Indeed, it is this confusion that might be the cause of most divorces and breakups in modern societies today.

    Traditionally, that is, prior to the nineteen twenties in the US, England and Europe, and later in most non Western societies, the agenda and purpose of courtship and sexual boundaries were very clear. This is still true in traditional societies today, such as ultra Orthodox Jews and orthodox Muslims.

    While not foolproof, and admittedly very discriminatory to sexual minorities, traditional courtships with their clearer agendas and tightly drawn sexual boundaries might have lead to less passion but also prevented a lot less pain (not to mention preventing unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, anxiety, depression etc).

    And yes–as other bloggers and Norman have implied persistent sexual harrassment, especially of vulnerable subordinates, may be a sign of deeper psychological problems.

    However, if “normal” and “appropriate” behavior is not defined, how can ANY behavior be seen as a symptom of a psychological problem?

    • FrankUSA says:

      Sharon. Your last paragraph is a great question. So much emphasis on the wrong things,wrong relationships etc in the workplace. And Rightly so. But is there still a possible situation that two people meet in the proximity of the workplace and (old fashioned)fall in love. Should there be a process that management/administration be informed of a developing relationship. I’m not even sure if there is an answer that can cover such a complicated situation. Yes,bad sexual things happen in the workplace and other places as well. But we have to face the possibility of real relationships developing due to physical proximity.

  • Wendy Wilcox says:

    Sergei Polunin highlighted the absence of support and understanding for young dancers in his film Dancer. Liam Scarlett was another extremely talented young man who it seems was not given any support or training in matters other than dance. Quite shocking and the dance world needs to look inwards before apportioning blame on young talented individuals.

  • Frankster says:

    In most countries, having sex with a minor is a crime. France, where I live, finally just came around to establishing an age (15) for a minor under which a crime has been committed. Over that age, standard moral limits control. In any case, anyone whose job has authority and control over anyone else should never be allowed to dominate that person, sexually or otherwise. Some ugly moral dancing is heard in comments above.

    • No moral dancing here says:

      Perhaps because the only formal investigation in to his proclivities found “no matters to pursue with regards to alleged contact with students of The Royal Ballet School.”

      Yet companies who hadn’t received internal complaints about his behaviour – Queensland Ballet for example – copycatted ROH’s decision to fired him from his position and cancel his work.

      As alluded to in the comments above, the point remains that employers should be able to take allegations of misdemeanour, by and from employees, seriously, without handing the alleged-against a death sentence.

  • FrankUSA says:

    The swirl of the alleged misconduct can be found in many places. Frankly,I had not heard of Liam Scarlett until I saw the news break of the Danish Ballet Company breaking any association. Reading some reports(and this was before he committed suicide) I had read an internet article that specifically mentioned allegations of improper behavior with male students. I tried to find that report but since his death there is a huge amount of articles. But I can only ask SD readers to believe that is indeed what I read. I looked at the internet just now. One problem is that one cannot read many news articles due to paywalls in place. I did find this one paragraph(in a longer story) in The Sun which I believe is a major London newspaper.

    “ There had been allegations of sexual misconduct spanning ten years, with claims that he had behaved inappropriately towards students and allegedly encouraged them to send him naked photos, the Times added.”

    The reason I am posting this is NOT to further spread any “information.” My purpose is to show that specific behaviors have been printed. However,this shows that the entire situation with Liam Scarlett was mishandled. The various organizations only printed vague alleging possible sexual misconduct but there seems to have been plenty of leaks of specific conduct published by news organizations or simply on the internet. The vague statements specifically from the various ballet companies was completely irresponsible. It is critical that these types of situations need to be handled with complete transparency. Specific accusations must be made public. The names of the accusers must be made public(unless they are legal juveniles). Anyone accused should be given the opportunity to answer the accusations. All of the above must be in any type of report from an organization and it must be made public. My point of mentioning the above transgressions but to point out the specific activities were being put out into public discourse but none have been factually proven or I have not read anything. Apparently the family wants privacy. Unfortunately, this situation will simply fade away and nothing will change.

  • William Evans says:

    Even if one were to believe any of the accusations against Mr Scarlett, I have not read of one that involves unwanted approaches to a minor. Notwithstanding this, surely tutors in any discipline act, by definition, from a position of of authority and should never solicit favours of any kind from their students, irrespective of the latter’s ages. I mention this not with particular reference to Mr Levine or Mr Scarlett but as a comment aimed at all educational establishments, their staff and their students.

    • ATH says:

      Several articles published in the MSM last year alleged impropriety with students at the Royal Ballet School. Whether they were legal minors or not, such conduct is no longer tolerated in that context. It is the same with the majority of educational establishments now, which ban sexual relationships or contact between staff and students.

  • Ed says:

    We are living in a cruel era of witch hunting. Cancel culture is destyoing lives.

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  • Anja says:

    I think that rivalty in the entertainment industry is a huge problem, indeed and we have to face and discuss it.

    When i started art school, we were all friends at the beginning, later it went berserk, when i comes to exhibitons, gallery contacts and so on. In Berlin i have seen a famous writer been anonymously slandered over the internet by her – so far – socalled best friend (was found out by checking IP-Adresses)… I have been told to “F**** off” as well, as “we are more than enough creatives already…”

    And if we discuss “What is allowed to say or do” we have to consider that this case happend in a DANCE/ART/CREATIVE environment, not in a tax office.

    It sound for me quite “normal” that you enter the backstage of other any time, that you ask for naked pictures (there sometimes naked actors/dancers on stage or in music videos ) or you touch each other… it is very different to tell. But – as i said – we don’t know more than hear-say. It is also no a big surprise that people take cocaine or make certain jokes/comments…

    There should of course really be no rape or sexual abuse or things that are really dangerous and traumatic for others.
    But it is not easy for people that are emotionally very fragile or manipulative or more eager to jealousy to work in that business. They will easly missunderstand comments on purpose or abuse the intentional missinterpretation of other peoples jokes to draw attention, if they suffer from certain toxic personality disorders.
    “If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen!”

    And at the moment we live in political climate where it is extremely dangerous to be called “racist” or “sexist” or “conservative” and to do/say socalled political incorrect things. Everybody feely he/she even has to watch his/her sense of humor. We are all step by step starting to walk on eggshells around other people…. this is also dangerous for communities and causes segregation.

    For me the liberal/left livestyle has always been: freedom of speech, creativty, free spirit, opend mind – i think we are at a point where have to be very careful not to become narrow-minded and ultra-conservative…

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