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Feeble art of insult blown away by aromaof success.

Byline: By Mario Basini Western Mail

Those of us attuned to the London media's addiction to the petty-minded sneer have found ourselves waiting for the first volley of sniper's fire to be directed at the Wales Millennium Centre.

We did not have to wait long. Barely 12 weeks after it opened, The Sunday Times arts editor Richard Brooks unleashed a broadside at the centre and its management.

The precision of his attack owed more to the clumsy blunderbuss than the high velocity rifle. His targets included several 'flops' at the WMC as well as the management style of its chief executive Judith Isherwood.

In his eagerness to ram home the attack, the reporter listed 'other Lottery-funded failures' including the infamous Millennium Dome, something called the Earth Centre at Doncaster and The National Centre for Popular Music at Sheffield.

Mr Brooks's article played down the success of the Welsh National Opera's opening season, made no mention of major international coups like the upcoming season by the Kirov Ballet and conveniently ignored the fact that the centre has already reached a third of its target ticket sales of 350,000 for its opening year.

Nor did he bother to mention the praise and acclaim heaped on the centre by many of the London critics, including those who work for his own newspaper.

As the National Assembly's culture minister Alun Pugh has pointed out, it is absurd that the WMC should be judged a failure after 12 weeks. Richard Brooks's carefully calculated comparison of the centre after three months of life to the disastrous Millennium Dome is a shoddily snide piece of journalism.

It is not the first time in recent weeks that London journalists, confronted with a phenomenon that threatens the sporting and cultural monopoly of the metropolis and of their own well-paid jobs, have reacted with similar ill-judged pettiness.

Having found themselves almost resentfully responding to the heady joyousness of the rugby played by Wales' Grand Slam side, they quickly reverted to type in the cold light of the following dawn. Such prettiness may be all very well for a Six Nations campaign, they complained. But when it comes to the British Lions tackling the All Blacks then sterner, more prosaic, not to mention boring, fare is needed. In other words the Lions side should be packed with slow and sterile English forwards.

Even Alan Watkins, a Welshman who has clearly been contemplating London's navel for far too long, repeated the mantra in The Independent.

The judgment not only seems to me to be one-eyed to the point of blindness. Its lack of vision could be disastrous for the Lions.

Fielding the slow-to-the-ruck English forwards who performed so mediocrely in the Six Nations will play straight into the hands of the faster-thinking New Zealanders. Defeating them will need the speed of thought, the originality and the vision so often displayed by the Welsh team this year.

The Welsh rugby side is young enough and talented enough to survive the pinpricks of the Lilliputian London rugby writers. The players' commitment to each other and their sense of purpose is illustrated by their response to the suggestion that Cardiff should hold an open-top bus parade through the city to celebrate their Grand Slam victory.

'It is too early for that,' they have said. 'Let's wait until we've won the World Cup.' I have to say I entirely agree.

Similarly, the Wales Millennium Centre has already become too vital a part of our cultural life for its future to be even tangentially affected by a handful of London hacks. The electrifying opening performances of the WNO in the space and freedom afforded by the magnificent Donald Gordon Theatre provided just a taste of the centre's potential for mounting world-class musical drama.

Its smaller drama and dance theatres are already playing a crucial part in nurturing new and experimental work. Nor, as Mr Brooks would have us believe, should the value of such work be judged solely in terms of the size of the audiences they can attract. Many of the performances at the centre will, by their very nature, attract small audiences willing to share the challenging vision and sense of adventure of the playwright, the composer, the choreographer.

Prose writers and poets, too, have found the WMC a congenial new venue for their performances and a welcoming headquarters for their organisation, the Academi.

On May 30, the centre will host Europe's biggest youth festival, the Urdd Eisteddfod, filling the venue for a week with the joyous and vibrant talents of our young people and our hopes for the future. The occasion will be an expression of our cultural potential which with the arrival of the centre at last has the means to develop and to express itself fully.

Already, the Wales Millennium Centre has got off to a promising start, particularly with the performances of the WNO. Like all such major international venues it will need time to bed down, to find the right balance of attractions and to perfect its marketing strategy.

But if the WMC is able to brush off Mr Brooks's attentions as it would a gnat's bite, his article has triggered one or two disturbing issues. The first is Ms Isherwood's admission that the centre is not yet well enough known outside Wales, something of which marketing organisations like the Wales Tourist Board should take particular note.

The suggestion of infighting between board members and senior management and between senior management and its subordinates is also troubling. If such infighting exists, it must be acknowledged and dealt with quickly. The Wales Millennium Centre is far too important to us for its performance to be marred by the clash of individual egos.
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 2, 2005
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