Liam Scarlett could work anywhere in the world but one man’s vision drew the sought-after English choreographer to Brisbane.
Li Cunxin – the much celebrated Artistic Director of Queensland Ballet – offered Scarlett the position of Artistic Associate. He will now split his time between Brisbane and London.
A ballet dancer since the age of four, Scarlett trained with the Royal Ballet School before joining the company proper in 2005. He quit performance at 26 to pursue choreography and has since travelled the world to create works with the Norwegian National Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet and English National Ballet.
Scarlett first set foot in Brisbane last year when his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the Royal New Zealand Ballet became a collaboration with Queensland Ballet.
Scarlett’s original work No Man’s Land is part of the company’s triple bill Raw, which opens Friday night.
Broadsheet: What is it that drew you back to Brisbane?
Liam Scarlett: Definitely Li’s vision. He sees things on such a broad scale that is always pushing for a little bit more. I think everyone has suddenly realised that there are no limits to what is actually possible. The quick acceleration of this company right now is quite exhilarating so that’s why I’ve come on board. I think it’s going to be a really great journey that is really only just beginning.
BS: What do you see as the difference between Queensland Ballet and other companies?
LS: The dancers that [Li] has chosen to form this kind of group – the community as such – are not only wonderful technicians and dancers but they are the most gorgeous, humble, honest people. It’s a competitive platform and yet he’s built a company that really shares everyone's true values and helps each other along.
BS: What is your original work No Man’s Land about?
LS: This was a co-production with the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. We premiered it in London in 2014 to mark the centenary of World War I. I was very hesitant when Tamara Rojo commissioned me because of the responsibility that comes with dealing with a subject that has such gravitas. It should be treated with respect, especially with a timeframe that I wasn't alive in. I can't even imagine what people went through.
I think it was a time when countries came together [to find] strength and any weakness was left behind to try and keep morale up. It’s that kind of unspoken sorrow that I think everyone had, but no-one really said anything at the time.
BS: Do you think dance is the medium to tell tough stories?
LS: The wonderful thing about dance is that you don’t need to speak the same language as the person sitting next to you. The human body is such a wonderful tool and being able to communicate without words – those body language actions that we do very subconsciously sometimes speak so much louder than words. So it’s trying to exploit what we do naturally and then fuse that with the language of dance to create something very poignant.
BS: Your work is part of the triple bill Raw showcase. How do the three fit together?
LS: I think triple bills are very hard to bring together. You have to have three pieces that really complement each other and some linearity that works across the whole program and yet they are different enough so that the audience doesn’t get bored or it doesn’t become repetitive.
Ghost Dances by Christopher Bruce was done back in the ’80s. I think it’s a masterpiece. There’s really nothing quite like it and there really hasn't been anything quite like it since. It’s a real honour to have my work placed alongside a piece like that.
The other piece is Greg Horsman’s Glass Concerto. I can only describe it as a tour de force of complete physicality. These dancers are giving everything to this. Glass Concerto is such a powerful score and I think Greg has really responded to that and really pushed the dancers to their real physical limit. It’s very exhilarating.
BS: What can we expect from you in the next three years?
LS: There’s a lot of new pieces, there’s a lot of revivals. I’m not going to say too much because I’ll get in trouble. My aim is to create something really special for these guys. It’s a wonderful thing when you specifically create a piece for a company or for someone. And that’s what I’m really aiming to do here.
Raw will be performed at the QPAC Playhouse March 17–25. Tickets are here.