In Depth

Royal Ballet sex scandal: who is Liam Scarlett?

‘Golden boy’ of dance world facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with students

The Royal Ballet has suspended a star choreographer over allegations of sexual misconduct.

Liam Scarlett, 33, is reported to have been banned from the ballet company’s Covent Garden base, pending the results of an inquiry into claims of inappropriate behaviour with students.

Scarlett is yet to comment on the allegations.

Who is Liam Scarlett?

According to The Guardian, Scarlett rose to prominence after winning prestigious awards for choreography while at the Royal Ballet School.

He joined the Royal Ballet in 2005 and was promoted to the role of first artist three years later. In 2012, he retired from dancing to focus on choreography.

Described by The Times as one of the “golden boys” of the dance world, Scarlett was the Royal Ballet’s first ever artist in residence, and is the youngest choreographer ever to have a full-length ballet commissioned by the company.

Indeed, he has been described as “potentially the greatest British choreographer since Kenneth MacMillan” - the late dancer and artistic director credited with launching British ballet onto the world stage in the 1970s.

Scarlett was scheduled to choreograph a production of Oklahoma last year but rehearsals were postponed without warning at around the time that the first allegations are said to have surfaced.

The Royal Ballet initially blamed a scheduling conflict for the delay.

What are the allegations against him?

The claims against Scarlett first emerged last August, according to a spokesperson for the Royal Opera House, which funds the ballet.

An independent disciplinary investigation was opened immediately and has since heard evidence from both current and former dancers relating to alleged wrongdoing over a ten-year period, reports The Times - which describes the row as “the worst crisis to hit the company for a generation”. 

A former student at the Royal Ballet School told the newspaper that Scarlett befriended him on Facebook when he was 18 and then coaxed him into sending an intimate photograph.

The unnamed dancer claims that Scarlett also shared sexual messages with other male students on the social media site, and that he would make remarks about young performers’ genitals, touch their backsides and walk in on them while they were changing.

“As a dancer you are trained to say ‘yes’ to everything,” the ex-student said. “Because it’s so competitive you can’t lose an opportunity, so when someone with a lot of power asks you to do something you are preprogrammed to do it.”

Other dancers “are said to have told the inquiry that Mr Scarlett took cocaine with the dancers and berated company staff”, and that he “seemed to enjoy people fearing him”, the Daily Mail reports. 

Some performers were allegedly unwilling to complain “for fear of missing out on parts”, with those who kept quiet said to have been “given preference over more experienced members”, the newspaper adds.

Is ballet having a #MeToo moment?

A 2018 investigation by The Guardian into abuse claims by US dancers found that “sexual misconduct permeates the world of ballet”.

While the “#MeToo movement has slowly started to have an effect”, said the newspaper, “American ballet has a long history of men whose unsavoury attitudes have gone unchecked”.

The Guardian noted that Peter Martins, the artistic director of New York City Ballet, had retired just weeks after allegations of physical and sexual assault were made against him in 2017. 

Martins denied the claims, which dated back as far as 1983, and was cleared by an inquiry commissioned by the City Ballet. 

The British ballet world has also been hit by abuse allegations.

Stephen Beagley, a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, was jailed for ten years in 2019 for sexually abusing three girls between the ages of nine and 13.

As the inquiry into the allegations against Scarlett continues, The Times concludes: “This may be ballet’s #MeToo moment.”

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