Liam Scarlett Faces Frankenstein

Laura Morera as Elizabeth and Steven McRae as the Creature in rehearsal for Frankenstein (Photo via The Royal Ballet)
Laura Morera as Elizabeth and Steven McRae as the Creature in rehearsal for Frankenstein (Photo via The Royal Ballet)

Royal Ballet artist in residence Liam Scarlett is noted for the psychological themes of his one-act ballets, like 2014’s The Age of Anxiety. On May 4, he pushed those themes further with the premiere of Frankenstein—his first full-length work for The Royal Ballet’s main stage. Frankenstein marks a first-time collaboration between Scarlett and composer Lowell Liebermann, and is co-produced with San Francisco Ballet, which will give the U.S. premiere in 2017. Pointe spoke with the choreographer about his process and why he thinks Mary Shelley’s novel is “perfection in literature.”

Why were you drawn to Frankenstein?
I first read Frankenstein as a child. Now, it’s less a tale of gothic horror and more a story of love: innocent love, the lack of love for oneself, betrayed and jealous love, and the desperate need to be loved by another. Every great story ballet has love at its center.

How do you work in the studio?
I don’t like to impose preconceived ideas on the talent in front of me. I prefer to mold the dancers and listen to what they have to say. I’m very fortunate to have both The Royal Ballet and SFB on board.

Can you talk about the characters?
Victor (Frankenstein) and Elizabeth (Victor’s betrothed) provide a pivotal central couple. The Creature adds a third role into the love triangle, as he struggles to gain acceptance from Victor and eventually takes revenge on him. The story has sympathy for all three characters—incredible actors are key for this ballet.

Will the ballet hew closely to the format of the book?
Shelley wrote in a three-person narrative form and created a pyramid structure that sets up tension and suspense perfectly. There’s been some editing to make it suitable for performance, but I’ve tried to stay true to the relationships between characters.

Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone