Good ballet choreographers are in such short supply that it’s easy to load emerging dance makers with laurels they don’t fully deserve. Expecting them to carry the torch for classical ballet is another burden they can do without while they learn their craft, even if they are very good, and if they are only able, disappointment for everyone is inevitable.
Tempting though it is to crown someone as the new choreographic king, what’s needed is a more measured approach to their work - how they use dancers, the collaborators they choose, and how each piece they make grows from the last.
Having said all that, all the signs suggest that Liam Scarlett is a talent to watch. The Royal Ballet dancer is only 24, but he has made several small-scale pieces for the company and other troupes, and has just created a new work for the main stage of the Opera House.
In Asphodel Meadows he wisely keeps to what he knows, which is the classical vocabulary, with duets for six principal dancers and framing steps for a corps of 14. The title of the piece refers the Greek underworld where ordinary souls reside, suggesting that Scarlett is exploring ideas of enduring, everyday love. Poulenc’s Concerto for two pianos further suggests love’s changing moods.
Scarlett’s main stage debut is insightful, with at times joyous, and then poignant duets, the one for Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside notable for its authenticity of feeling. He has chosen an able cast and collaborators, including the designer John MacFarlane who has created a plain monochromatic set with moving split panels that echo the back cloth.
Scarlett's style is not especially innovative – he uses essentially neo-classical moves – but it is finely crafted, and shows considerable promise. Sandwiching him between a work by Christopher Wheeldon and Mats Ek might seem like a tough setting, but it actually works in his favour. Wheeldon’s Electric Counterpoint is one of his less interesting works, while Ek’s Carmen is such a thrilling, idiosyncratic take on the over-familiar story that Scarlett is spared competition.