Liam Scarlett Faces Frankenstein

Scarlett rehearses Fearful Symmetries with SFB principals Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

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.

Ballet Careers
Gray Davis with wife, ABT soloist Cassandra Trenary, after his graduation from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Courtesy Trenary.

When Gray Davis retired from American Ballet Theatre in July of 2018, he moved home to South Carolina, unsure of what would come next. Last month, just over a year later, Davis graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Today, he's working as a deputy for the Abbeville County Sheriff's Office.

Though Davis danced in ABT's corps for 11 years and is married to soloist Cassandra Trenary, to many he's best known for saving the life of a man who was pushed onto the subway tracks in New York City in 2017. The heroic effort earned him the New York State Liberty Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by a member of the New York State Senate. We caught up with Davis to hear about how the split second decision he made in the subway affected the course of his life, what it's been like starting a second career and what he sees as the similarities between ballet and law enforcement.

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Sponsored by BLOCH
Courtesy BLOCH

Today's ballet dancer needs a lot from a pointe shoe. "What I did 20 years ago is not what these dancers are doing now," says New York City Ballet shoe manager Linnette Roe. "They are expected to go harder, longer days. They are expected to go from sneakers, to pointe shoes, to character shoes, to barefoot and back to pointe shoes all in a day."

The team at BLOCH developed their line of Stretch Pointe shoes to address dancer's most common complaints about the fit and performance of their pointe shoes. "It's a scientific take on the pointe shoe," says Roe. Dancers are taking notice and Stretch Pointe shoes are now worn by stars like American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, who stars in BLOCH's latest campaign for the shoes.

We dug into the details of Stretch Pointe's most game-changing features:

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Ballet Stars
Megan Amanda Ehrlich, Courtesy LEAP Program

Claire Sheridan wanted to change the status quo. Leading up to the 1990s, she recalls, "there was a 'shut up and dance' mind-set," and as the founder of the dance program at St. Mary's College of California and a longtime teacher in professional companies, she had seen too many dancers retire with no plan for a successful career transition. "At that time, if you thought about education and the future," she says, "you were not a committed dancer. I wanted to fight that."

With the support of St. Mary's, Sheridan developed the Liberal Education for Arts Professionals program, or LEAP, an innovative liberal-arts bachelor's degree program designed especially for professional dancers. She first presented her idea to executives at San Francisco Ballet. "Kudos to that company, because they said, 'This is great,'" she says. "Eleven of the first 18 dancers who started in August 1999 were from SFB."

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Ballet Training
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I'm a college freshman, and my dance program isn't challenging enough. We only have ballet three times a week and a few hours of modern, and my classmates aren't as dedicated as I am. There's a small dance company nearby, where I was hoping to take extra classes, but I don't have a car. I want to transfer, but I feel like I won't be in good enough shape for auditions. —Tara

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