Lit Prizes… Do They Mean Anything?

“Some — by now perhaps all — cultural prizes have had the shine rubbed off them by having been given to undeserving people, an ample number of serious jackasses among them. Everyone knows that the list of writers who did not win the Nobel Prize — Tolstoy, Proust, Henry James, James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, W.H. Auden — is much more impressive than the list of those who have. Moreover, there is something about winning the Nobel Prize in literature that makes one posthumous no matter how much longer one goes on to live.”

Out With The Old…

“Scotland’s oldest working theatre faces demolition after the trust that runs it submitted plans to build a new theatre complex, including a restaurant and studio. JM Barrie, Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel have all trodden the boards at the Dumfries Theatre Royal, which was built from money raised in part by Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet. But the trust wants to raze it and build a new theatre.”

Is Political Correctness Dooming British Dancers?

A leading figure in UK dance says that the next generation of British ballet dancers is being cheated of the training they deserve by a politically correct society and the health and safety laws that go with it. Jeffery Taylor charges that “teachers are no longer allowed to touch or manipulate young dancers’ bodies into the correct positions – to straighten their backs, legs or arms – because of fears that they could be accused of sexual harassment… Teachers won’t criticise you. They say all the students are as good as each other, that they are equally wonderful. It’s obviously not true.” Taylor’s comments came as the shortlist for the UK’s National Dance Awards was released – a list that, for the first time ever, included no native Britons.

No, It Isn’t

Andrew Dickson isn’t terribly impressed with Jeffrey Taylor’s theory that laws preventing dance instructors from touching their charges are killing off the art of dance. “I wonder if laws preventing children from being turned into hobbling wrecks – even artistic hobbling wrecks – are really all that terrible.” And one dance critic says that “People like Jeffrey Taylor would be the first to criticise if dancers at the Royal Ballet ended up injured because they were being pushed too hard.”

Emperor of Islington

In America, he is known almost exclusively as the evil Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars films. But Ian McDiarmid is one of British theatre’s respected eminences, and he sees his role in one of America’s dominant pop culture phenomena as an interesting sidebar, but hardly the signature moment of his career. Still, the role seems to have grown on him, in all its one-dimensional glory. “I thought Palpatine was a pretty good character. I like the notion that he didn’t have any psychological subtlety or depth, that he was just solidly evil and the dirtiest word in his vocabulary was ‘friend’. I thought that was terrific.”

Collecting Hitler

It’s a fairly well-known fact that Adolf Hitler started out as an artist. It’s also fairly well known that he wasn’t a very good one. But that hasn’t stopped the market for authentic Hitler artworks from booming. “Isn’t the business of collecting the personal effects of Nazis – even their artwork – rather questionable?” Of course it is, and most art dealers won’t go near the stuff. But for the “narrow band” of collectors who are interested, price (and geo-political baggage) seem to be no object.

Those Crazy Swedes

In what must surely be one of the oddest pairings in awards history, Sweden’s prestigious Polar Music Prize will be shared this year by conductor Valery Gergiev and rock band Led Zeppelin. The winners, who will be honored by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustav in May, share a love of dramatic performance techniques, a worldwide following, and not a whole heck of a lot else.

Proving, Once Again, That People Love Free Concerts

13,000 people packed the Mall in Washington, D.C. last weekend to watch a simulcast of Washington National Opera’s production of Porgy & Bess on a huge, 18-by-32 foot video screen. “When Angela Simpson sang Serena’s lament ‘My Man’s Gone Now,’ the applause was thunderous. And the cheers were repeated for almost every song from Indira Mahajan as Bess and Gordon Hawkins as Porgy. And for once, the cheers and the notes weren’t trapped by the chandeliers of the Opera House but floated off into the blue sky over the Mall.”

The Spoils of Victory

The best part about winning a major literary prize is usually the increased sales that go along with the honor. And this year, the candidates for Canada’s Giller Prize have even more reason than usual to lick their chops at the prospect of a win. This year’s shortlist is jam-packed with authors most of the public has never heard of, and such little-known writers are traditionally the ones who benefit most from the exposure a major award affords. Publishers are gearing up for tomorrow night’s announcement as well: the winner will see an immediate additional print run of 20,000 copies, to be on shelves within two days.