The Joffrey Ballet’s two-week run of Frankenstein performances at the Lyric Opera just ended. It was a success on all levels: seasonally, critically, financially, and artistically. It was one of their biggest productions to date and it was simply awesome. I was lucky enough to see it twice. Once as press, and the second time as a subscriber. I just can’t quit them.
My unofficial title, since I didn’t review it, is “Joffrey’s Young Artists Slay Frankenstein!” On opening night, José Pablo Castro Cuevas and Jonathan Dole danced Victor Frankenstein and the Creature (respectively) in breakout performances of their young careers. Joined by the phenom Amanda Assucena – all three came up through the Joffrey Academy – they formed the main trio of the ballet and brought down the house. The second cast I saw had Hyuma Kiyosawa (another youngin’) as the Creature, paired with Alberto Velazquez and Victoria Jaiani (who was celebrated as she starts her 20th season with the company – or is it 21?) as Victor and Elizabeth. Each cast had a different take on their roles which I always find interesting to watch. The supporting roles, corps, children, sets, costumes, projections, pyrotechnics, score, orchestra, and not the very least, the production crew were all performing at the top of their games. Bravo!
But, much like the Arpino Centennial Celebration last month, this was, for me, more about the choreographer and their legacy. Liam Scarlett was a supremely talented artist, highly creative person, beautiful human, and a friend. Their presence could be felt in every step, loving embrace, anguished look, and musical note of the ballet. And, if they were still with us, they would’ve been up dancing and demonstrating every single part in every rehearsal with more passion than the dancers. They were one-of-a-kind.
There are similarities with Frankenstein and Scarlett’s life. In the book by Mary Shelley, Victor is horrified by what he has created and that it has taken on a destructive life of its own, which could apply to Scarlett’s career. They became successful at a young age and got caught in a whirlwind of fame and continuous work. In the ballet, Victor can’t handle that what he has created has destroyed everything he loves and kills himself from the pain, much like Scarlett’s career ultimately ended their life. And, as a non-binary person, Scarlett also knew what it felt like to be “other,” not initially accepted for who they were by the masses. The creator and the creation. The god and the monster. As troubled as their life sometimes was, they were a kind soul. Cancel culture took away their career, their livelihood, and in the end, their life.
Thank you to Ashley Wheater for bringing their Frankenstein to Chicago and letting audiences experience their genius. Their memory and talent live on in the dancers and stagers who breath new life into their work.