David Lister: A ballerina on 'Question Time'? Why not? It would raise the level of debate


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The Independent Culture

And tonight on Question Time ... joining a cabinet minister, leading members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, and a provocative newspaper commentator, we have a prima ballerina who danced a divine Juliet and an even more enticing Manon.

It sounds odd, because it doesn't tend to happen. But in an interview this week, Tamara Rojo, the star of the Royal Ballet who is soon to become artistic director of and dancer with the English National Ballet gave some forthright views on dancers needing to eat more, worry less about crazy dieting and not be divas. She concluded: "I know I am hard work when I'm in a political debate, because I don't let go. I should be on Question Time."

She should indeed, as should so many other artists, artistic directors, film-makers, composers and musicians with equally forthright and considered views on their art, but also on politics, society and social issues that go well beyond their chosen profession.

On the whole, such people do not get asked to take much part in our national discourse. Which is strange when you think about it, as their day job is interpreting political and social issues, be it in a gallery, on screen, on stage or in music.

There are exceptions, of course. Quirky rock stars like Jarvis Cocker turn up in the unlikeliest places. A showbiz personality, a comedian for a bit of novelty, they are there now and again. But representatives of what are called the high arts are much less ubiquitous. Painters, poets and opera composers are not asked their views on Afghanistan in our papers and on TV, even though we will probably end up paying to see and hear their digested views interpreted for their art form.

I say bring on the artists, if for no other reason than they are unpredictable. From Question Time to Newsnight, I feel that I know in advance what the usual pundits are going to say. The party hacks will always support the beleaguered minister, the opposition spokespeople will attack him, the smirking commentator will attempt to be above it all. But I have no idea what Mike Leigh would make of the Leveson Inquiry, what Caryl Churchill or Maggi Hambling would say about child poverty, or what Sir Peter Hall, Antony Gormley or Sir Simon Rattle would do about Europe. But I suspect that their views would be different and thought-provoking. Just as I suspect that Tamara Rojo has more subjects to offer expert comment on than girls' self-image and anorexia – though giving her a national platform on that would be a good start.

We trust our artists to open a window into our lives and into our nation. We trust Danny Boyle to offer the world his vision of Britain at the Olympics opening ceremony. But for some reason we don't like to listen to them talking about such things. And that's a waste. They can offer a perspective which may be a little more left field than we are used to, may occasionally be from the soul as well as from the head, but I don't see why that should be excluded from the national debate. Question Time should have a place at the table reserved for an artist.

Why did no one come to aid of damsel in distress?

My heart went out to the soprano in Lucia di Lammermoor on the opening night of the opera season at London's Holland Park. Her opening, emotional aria was all but drowned out by the sound of a pack of French schoolgirls singing their hearts out in the park just behind the stage. Most nights, perhaps, there might not be anyone there to move on the offenders. But this was opening night, and, as well as a host of stewards, there was the chief executive of the opera company, the leader of the council, the chairman of the Friends, and several other worthies. Lucia needed their help. Those who put on opera in the park have a duty to tell noisy visitors to shut up. Otherwise it's taking "opera for all" rather too literally.

We don't like to be beside the seaside in winter

The West End producer Howard Panter is spreading his wings and setting up a base in Brighton, where he will stage productions at the Theatre Royal before they come to London. With this come two commendable innovations. He tells me he will be having more matinees as he has detected a growing audience for them. He will also be throwing first-night parties on the beach. They should be great fun in summer. But come winter, I might be washing my hair on opening nights.

d.lister@independent.co.uk Twitter.com/davidlister1