A year ago, Liam Scarlett’s first dance for Miami City Ballet succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. The company’s premiere of the young British choreographer’s Viscera garnered standing ovations and enthusiastic reviews from, among others, The New York Times. The success helped pave the way for Scarlett’s promotion to artist-in-residence at the Royal Ballet and marked him as a talent to watch in the ballet world.
Viscera set a high bar for Scarlett’s new work for MCB, Euphotic, which premieres Friday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. It will be the finale of Program II, which also includes Balanchine’s brilliant Divertimento No. 15 and Duo Concertant and Petipa’s crowd-pleasing Don Quixote Pas de Deux.
“The pride turns into ‘It needs to be better if not at least as good,’ ” the cherubic-looking 26-year-old said in an interview during a September visit to Miami for rehearsals.
“There’s the angst and anticipation of an entirely new piece, trying to live up to something you’ve done before and create something entirely different. Then you get to that first day in the studio where there’s 30 pairs of eyes looking at you going, ‘It’s going to be better, right?’ ”
So how did he deal with all those longing eyes?
“I didn’t,” Scarlett says with a grin. “I started with the pas de deux so I only had two pairs of eyes looking at me.”
Happily, one of them belonged to Jeanette Delgado, the MCB principal dancer who was the red-hot center of Viscera and has become Scarlett’s Miami muse.
“It’s amazing what she comes up with, how she furthers my work in ways you don’t think is going to happen,” he says.
Delgado says she was buoyed by her excitement at working with Scarlett again and confidence in his talent.
“The fact that it was happening again so soon overrode the emotions of hoping it will be just as good,” Delgado says. “I remember that moment when he said, ‘I don’t know what I’m about to do.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re ridiculous, because you’re a genius.’ He is inspired by the dancers but he also has something magical inside.”
MCB founding artistic director, Edward Villella commissioned Viscera when Scarlett was unknown outside the Royal Ballet, an impulsive decision that turned out to be a prescient one. Villella’s successor, Lourdes Lopez, says that bringing in choreographers to create work on MCB’s dancers remains a priority.
“My ultimate goal is to build the repertory at Miami City Ballet,” Lopez says. “New work is incredibly important to the art form and to audiences and dancers. I want the company to be doing great new work, and to expand the range of this company and our audiences.”
She has been impressed by Scarlett.
“For someone who is very young, he had a natural authority,” she says. “And he was able to get the gist of what makes these dancers great.”
Euphotic is a more ambitious work than Viscera. It’s set to Concerto No.2 for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 36, by Lowell Lieberman, the same cotemporary composer Scarlett used last year, but this score is on a grander scale, with a sweeping symphonic sound and orchestration.