Like ballet, but with an edge? Meet Karis Scarlette. The former professional dancer has been pirouetting since the age of two on every major London stage, alongside the likes of Darcey Bussell and Carlos Acosta.
Following a severe injury that brought an end to her main stage career, she now teaches ballet in London through her company En Avant. But if you fancy a spot of ballet by the beach, you can join Karis this April for a special 10-day residency at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, Maldives.
How long have you been doing ballet and how has it affected your life?
I have been teaching ballet full time for the last 6 years. I began taking ballet classes when I was only 2 and training seriously with Royal Ballet teachers from age 6.
I was always dancing and showing off, according to my mum! Ballet has been a part of my entire life and it allowed me to step into the world of ballet teaching with ease and confidence after I stopped dancing professionally in 2012. Ballet teaching really is a whole different world though…
Tell us more about the tattoos…
The tattoos are meant to represent people and moments to which I’ve felt a strong connection. They are my way of showing the imprint these people and moments have had on me. but if I’m honest, there’s one I would probably have not gone through with had I been fully sober! But I love them. Having tattoos is creative. They’re art, and totally addictive! I want to design a large piece to go on my back next.
What would you tell people who are too intimidated to try ballet?
Never assume. Most decisions we make are the result of assuming the outcome or projecting our fears onto the situation. People are frightened to try something new because of a pre-conceived idea of how unsuccessful they will be. The most common excuse I get for why people don’t try ballet is ‘I’m not skinny enough’, ‘I’m too old’ or ‘ballet isn’t for men’. Therefore there is already an expectation of failure on some level.
The reality is, we were all beginners once and we should allow ourselves to be, as this is part of the journey. I don’t care what you look like, how old you are or what gender you are – the very fact you’ve stepped into my studio despite those fears makes me proud of you! If you genuinely are interested in learning ballet in a fun and supportive environment, then come to an En Avant Ballet. I promise you, once you’re in the studio you’ll forget all about why it took you so long.
How does ballet make you feel and how do you want it to make other people feel?
Ballet is for everyone which is what makes it so special. You can begin at any age and as an adult there is no pressure. You can take as long as you want to learn the technique and accumulate knowledge of an art form that has a reputation of being elitist and unattainable. Beyond that ballet, like most forms of dance has the power to lift your spirit and self-esteem through the exposure to classical music and functional movements.
These components together have a healing effect on the body as both are known to mitigate stress and anxiety and in our very busy and distracted world of 2017, this is more important than ‘feeling the burn’. More focus needs to be placed on exercise methods which come with a nurturing and lasting philosophy. Ballet will give you the cardio workout you need. It will build your strength, aid your flexibility and help correct bad posture.
It promotes fluid, meditative breathing deep into the lungs so as not to force the breath up into the shoulders where it creates unwanted tension. It will steadily build your stamina so your body doesn’t spike with adrenaline the moment you walk into the studio! And most importantly, ballet will help you connect to yourself through positive self-expression and by partaking in an autonomous activity.
Barre has exploded onto London’s fitness scene whilst ballet hasn’t had the attention it deserves. Why do you feel this is?
Barre is a commercial exercise class whereas ballet is art. The only similarities are the use of the ballet barre and certain movements taken from the ballet technique used in Barre sequences. I believe Lotte Berk started the trend when rehabbing herself after an injury. I guess why it’s become so popular recently is through clever (and dangerous) marketing – ‘get a ballet body at Barre Class’ leads people to believe they’re actually attending a ballet class.
As if a ballet body can be gifted to you through a few ‘aerobics’ classes?! Classical ballet has evolved over hundreds of years, through history and influence. To expertly train in it takes virtually the first 20 years of your life. I hate seeing Barre classes butcher our beautiful technique and take away its significance.
It’s plain to see that attending classes such as these requires less commitment, less concentration and less knowledge and they definitely are not a testament to all the years of diligent training, sacrifice and skills earned by true ballet dancers and ballet teachers. But the good news is people are starting to realise how cool adult ballet classes are and how much healthier and holistic dancing is! Ballet has lasted through the centuries and it will endure once all other exercise fads have faded.
How many times do you go and see a ballet performance. What’s your favourite?
I try to go to the Royal Opera House to see the Royal Ballet as often as possible, although it’s been a while due to my workload. My favourite choreographer is Kenneth MacMillan so I love most of his ballets; Manon, The Judas Tree, The Rite of Spring and Requiem but my favourite is most definitely Romeo and Juliet.
MacMillan ballets are incredibly visceral and rich with story and character. He often used psychologically demanding subject matters so his work became really relevant particularly towards the end of the 20th Century and he loved to leave the audience questioning their own views and beliefs.
What is your choice of tipple at the bar?
At the moment it’s my boyfriend Dave Mulligan’s alcohol, Ban Poitin. Poitin is an illicit Irish spirit with a very hedonistic, underground culture and because it’s pretty strong, I have to drink it in a cocktail – which I’m told is not how you’re supposed to drink it! Dave creates cocktails using ingredients based on the fig perfumes I wear so they’re very creative and personal – he created one called Banerina (play on the words Ban and ballerina) which is delicious. Besides Poitin, I also love Ruinart champagne and red wine. Not together though!
Favourite restaurant in London?
This is such a hard question but I will go with my two old faithful’s – Balthazar and The Big Easy. Balthazar because the food is great, the atmosphere is electric and the staff are now like family. And The Big Easy because I used to go there with my parents when I was a kid so I basically grew up on lobster and Voodoo sauce!
What’s your philosophy on food?
My philosophy on food is the same as life, in that you need a good balance. If someone tells me not to eat something, it’s generally the first thing I want to eat! So as long as you’re choosing intelligently and not completely abstaining from something you like you should be able to live pretty harmoniously.
Having said all that, I am actually living a more vegan lifestyle these days due to my views on animal cruelty and the environment. I never eat processed or fast food or drink fizzy drinks either. I love my greens and my guilty pleasure is sushi or cheese (my non-vegan choices).
What does the word hedonism mean to you?
For me, hedonism is another means of expression. We all have our pursuit of pleasure and happiness which for me is ballet. Dancing makes me high!
Where can people try your classes in London?
Head to my website for a full timetable of my En Avant Ballet classes
In a perfect world, ballet would be…
In a perfect world ballet be acknowledged and respected by everyone, not just for its beauty and contribution to art and culture but for its healing properties, mental and physical benefits and its inclusivity, particularly amongst the adult ballet community.
I don’t really have one. Just live in the moment, be spontaneous, make intelligent choices for the planet and those around you, act with love and laugh every day. Nurture and stand up for what’s important to you whether that be your career, your family or your field of goats! And never underestimate how powerful you are.
About the Ballet Retreat programme at Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa, Maldives
The Ballet Retreat programme will involve group classes inspired by the Royal Ballet’s most famous works, as well as one-to-one Sunset Guided Meditation and Stretching sessions with Karis – all in the paradise setting of Villingili’s turquoise waters, white sands and lush foliage.
Also included is a “Tutu Perfect” body treatment that uses all-natural live spirulina algae to impart essential vitamins, minerals and protein to nourish and revitalize the body post-class, as well as a moonlit “Swan Lake” themed Dine by Design experience by the tranquil waters of the island’s majestic lagoon.
Available from 5 – 15 April 2018