The Week in Arts: The easy way to open a national dance house

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One of the cultural campaigns of the early 1990s was for a national dance house. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it fizzled out, as cultural campaigns do, and was not mentioned again until this week, when out of the blue we suddenly had a national dance house.

One of the cultural campaigns of the early 1990s was for a national dance house. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But it fizzled out, as cultural campaigns do, and was not mentioned again until this week, when out of the blue we suddenly had a national dance house.

In case you hadn't noticed, the announcement was made by Alistair Spalding, the head of Sadler's Wells in London. His building, he said, was henceforth the nation's home for dance. He said it on Monday. On Tuesday, Sadler's Wells presented the critically derided Sleeping Beauty on Ice. That wasn't great timing, as choreographers are wont to say.

But, ice dancing aside, let's applaud Sadler's Wells. They have shown how easy it is to become a national institution. You just stand up and say: "We are it". Think how long it took to create a National Theatre. None of that nonsense for Mr Spalding. I declare my building national, he declares. And that's that. No need for a royal decree, no charity gala, no need even for the permission of the Department of Culture. Just do it. It is the postmodern approach to running an arts institution.

He's not wrong. Dance needs a national base. Too often it can be the poor relation of the arts world. The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet share the Royal Opera House. But it is called the Royal Opera House. We do need a national dance house. Interest in it never really wanes, and hip-hop has heightened and expanded this interest. Mr Spalding, wisely, says hip-hop dance will be among his initiatives, as will a formal partnership with artists such as Matthew Bourne. Sadler's Wells, since its renovation, has excellent sightlines and a rather buoyant and classless atmosphere.

However, being Britain's first national dance house brings with it some responsibilities to the dance-loving public. Mr Spalding must ensure that Mr Bourne doesn't mount his productions at Sadler's Wells with an orchestra, and then tour them nationally with recorded music. That is the case with his current production, Highland Fling.

The National Dance House must ensure the nation is treated equally. Second, although it is from this week a producing house, Sadler's Wells must continue to show the best of the world's dance as well as mount its own productions.

But good luck to Mr Spalding and Sadler's Wells in raising the profile of dance and showing a tardy arts world how simple it actually is to be a National Dance House. Now I'm back off to my house in Pinner, or as I have now renamed it, the National House for Arts Journalism.

Try throwing a few laughs our way

The smashing comedian Jennifer Saunders seems to be in confessional mode. In an interview this week, she admitted that her last series with Dawn French was not up to scratch. "Dawn and I enjoyed it, but I think we were the only people that enjoyed it thoroughly," she said.

She added: "I think we misjudged the pace of it and misjudged how much other stuff we might need for it... In our heads, we were making a late-night BBC2 show, because we always forget we've developed into mainstream now."

That's an iffy memory indeed. And doesn't the BBC have producers to remind its stars what channel and what time of night their show is aimed for? Never mind. Ms Saunders can now delight us with a new sitcom. I suggest the central character should be a brilliant comedian of middle years who undergoes a crisis of confidence when she realises that her last show is aimed at the wrong audience at the wrong time of night. She ends up being the only person to enjoy the show. Can't fail.

¿ I am delighted that Harold Pinter's retirement from the stage looks like being one of the shortest on record. I wrote on this page last week that Pinter should not leave playwriting in order to concentrate on being a political activist, as playwriting is one of the most effective forms of political activism. I hear that part of my column was read out to Pinter in a session at last Saturday's Aldeburgh Literary Festival.

Humphrey Burton, the broadcaster and author who interviewed the playwright at the festival, and had his copy of The Independent on stage throughout the session, tells me that the playwright ended up conceding that he might indeed write more plays. Welcome back to the stage, Mr Pinter.

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