LEADING ARTICLE:Let's boogie on the South Bank

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Take a cultural riverside stroll along the South Bank in London. There is the Royal Festival Hall, the home of classical music, the National Theatre, the National Film Theatre, with London's two opera houses just across the river. Dance continues to be the one art form with no national flagship. Yet in our daily and, more particularly, nightly lives, no art form is more evident. We don't just boogie the night away; a look at the club scene both in London and other areas shows that we also salsa, tango, jive and go to ballroom dancing classes, which are suddenly in vogue on university campuses. Even square dancing is making a return.

And we watch. The Royal Ballet is atthe peak of its form with genuine stars like Sylvie Guillem, Irek Mukhamedov and Darcey Bussell packing the house. Other classical companies such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet have seentheir audiences rise. The rise in the Eighties of interest in contemporary dance may now have slowed, but it has not abated.

Yet dance remains the poor relation in the arts. Unlike opera and theatre, it does not have its own building and suffers strongly from the lack of a national figure to promote it. A Richard Eyre, David Puttnam or Harvey Goldsmith could work wonders in lifting its profile.

Dance's sense of being a poor relation will not have been helped by an influential report just produced by the Stevenson committee, a gathering of the great and good, looking into opera and ballet provision in London.

While this committee is to be congratulated for pouring scorn on the idiocy of the Royal Opera House and London Coliseum choosing to close for redevelopment for an overlapping year later in the decade, it is wrong to rule out the possibility of a national dance house, proposing instead a vague-sounding "dance-house network" of venues.

This would be better than the present situation, in which dance companies fail to beg enough dates from the venues, and thus play fewer performances - a situation that leads to the declining audiences to which the report points. But this network cannot work unless the Arts Council insists that venues charge considerably lower rents to the hard-pressed dance companies, and earmarks subsidy to enable that approach.

It costs £75,000 a week in rent for a dance company to perform at the Coliseum, before even paying the dancers. Without this assurance of subsidy, the case for a national dance house in London that could accommodate our big national companies, along withvisiting foreign ensembles, with spaces for middle- and small-scale productions, too, remains overwhelming.

Dance needs to make its case heard in the stampede for Lottery money. With the right public profile, and the right building for a network of exciting companies, a country that clearly loves to dance could become a country that loves dance.

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