The Recognition Factor.
We know the potential dangers of not having enough time, or the problems inherent in having too much time; we know what it means to be past time, or, sometimes tragically, out of time. We try to act in a timely manner.
Awards come in many packages, intended to motivate and inspire good work. And timeliness is a major consideration. But the many awards that we have devised in the dance field seem never to be enough. There are those given at competitions, such as Jackson or New York or Paris or Vama. Think of the Village Voice Obies, of Broadway's Tonys, or the Isadoras, or the Capezio or Dance Magazine Awards. Some awards are given for self-promotion of individuals or groups, such as those given by the Dance Notation Bureau or the Dance Library of Israel. There are the honorary academic awards, such as that Juilliard bestowed on Mark Morris last spring. Or those really big awards, such as the Nobel Peace Prize, which carries about $1 million in cash (and has not included the performing arts, where in fact the Nobel ideals are often best expressed). The Pulitzer has been given only once to a dance writer, perhaps because many journalists in other fields don't take dance writing seriously. The Kennedy Center Honors recognize American performing artists, including prominent dance personalities, signaling to many who might otherwise not know, that dance is a major art form all its own. Even grants, such as those given by the Ford Foundation or the Guggenheim, among many, tend to be seen as awards--and they are--but still they're not quite the same.
As far as I know, awards are seldom refused--in fact, despite polite reticence on the surface, they are eagerly sought after and politicked for. Who among us has not imagined (or, for that matter, deserved) a climactic moment when, clutching an engraved sterling tray or a Baccarat crystal bowl, we turn to an audience and manage something like, "Oh, no, I don't deserve all of this"--when, in fact, we may have dreamt of little else for years? But awards can carry baggage for the conscientious but unsuspecting artist--like the pressure to produce good work that will, itself, produce more recognition, more prizes, proving that the first award was not a mistake.
AND RECOGNITION CAN COME at the most unexpected time. You know, somebody calls you up on an afternoon that hasn't been going particularly well and tells you that you've just received a MacArthur "Genius" Award for $500,000, distributions to be spread over the next five years. Nice. You can afford dinner now and maybe a trip home for a week or two.
Should awards be given posthumously? The Dance Museum in Saratoga Springs, New York, gives them, but further recognition of already famous dead people doesn't necessarily help those of us left behind alive. And what is gained by heaping one honorary award upon another? Lincoln Kirstein arrived at the point in his life where he refused all further awards; Agnes de Mille never reached that point, as far as I know, and the substantial list of her accolades must have provided some solace against deep insecurity.
Try as we may, however, our timing is never infallible. We can only hope to get it right the next time around. Take the Dance Magazine Awards, given since 1954. Sir Anton Dolin (he liked and used the title) would certainly agree. The celebrated English dancer and choreographer had pretty much cashed in after a remarkable career by the time he received the magazine's award in 1981. "It's about time," he quipped from the podium in New York on acceptance. "Because if you'd waited much longer ..." Admonishing us, too, in her wry, humorous way, was the elderly Hanya Holm who, when receiving the award in 1990, told us that she had already received one, but she was glad to accept yet another. (At the time I thought, "Hmm ... senior moment"; but quite mysteriously, although there is no record, the magazine apparently gave awards briefly in the 1930s.)
Bruce Marks, in 1997, pointed out with a smile that, having received every other major award in dance, he thought it was about time the magazine took note of him as well. He was right. Dame Ninette de Valois, at age 100, could not make it across the pond from London in 1998 to be present at the New York presentation of her award, but her stand-in, Georgina Parkinson, remarked that we had "gotten" Dame Ninette just in time. As it turned out, de Valois had quite a bit of ginger left in her yet.
One reader of this column, Dorothy Nesbitt, wrote, "With few exceptions, there is not a crystal-clear vision of dance. Dance is everywhere and nowhere. There is a sphere of dance, but it has yet to be defined." Our recognition helps define that vision: What we honor, we emulate; what we encourage, we develop. And a part of that process of defining dance has to do with timeliness. How many of us have attended--or purposely not attended--an awards ceremony for a colleague whose honor we secretly, deep down, felt we should be getting ourselves? We finally have to reward ourselves, and we may very well deserve it--and for many of us, that may be as close as we're ever going to get.
Richard Philp has been with Dance Magazine since 1970, first as managing editor and then for many years as editor in chief He is a writer, editor, and speaker, known for his strong support of the arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||reflections on the meaning of awards in the dance world|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2001|
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