So recent months have seen the return of the likes of The Rolling Stones and David Bowie. Music royalty, if you will. Or perhaps, simply: legends.
Bowie's ‘comeback’ single 'Where are We Now' was met by a mixed reaction from the British public, but was of course hugely successful in terms of sales, reaching number 1 in the iTunes chart on the day of its release (although whether or not this is a failsafe way of measuring someone’s success is another matter entirely…). And whyever not, he's David Bowie! But this return of, and reaction to, the man that brought us Ziggy Stardust did get me thinking about how an artist's previous work influences our opinions on new ventures…
Had 'Where Are We Now' been released by someone of little or no previous success to write home about, would anyone have liked it? Does such a legendary status that we bestow (and rightly so!) on the Mick Jaggers, David Bowies, Matthew Bournes and Hofesh Shechters of this world mean they are excused the scrutiny suffered by less established names? Are we blinded / brainwashed by their success into feeling they can do no wrong?
On the other hand perhaps if, once they have found a formula that works, (as undoubtedly artists like Hofesh Shechter have) they were to sit their creativity comfortably within the style that we know, and that earned them their success, they would be criticised for 'churning it out', not pushing boundaries or trying new things, as they are perhaps the best placed to do so.
Does such a level of success and recognition lead to artistic complacency or even laziness? Or does their hard-earned success mean they are afforded an artistic freedom that they should grab with both hands, considering the very privileged position they are in to be able to push the boundaries and have people take note. Is the mark of a truly good creative somebody who can constantly re-invent and re-ignite their work?
At the other end of the scale, the way that new or 'emerging' choreographers are responded to through platforms such as Resolution! is perhaps in some ways ideal and in other ways extremely harsh. Wouldn't it be great to be able to take a piece of work at face value, regardless of the choreographer's previous wealth, or lack, of experience.
The supposed anonymity of the Place Prize applications alludes to this way of thinking, but in the relatively small-scale contemporary dance world, is this concealment really possible? Perhaps achieving this would open up the lucky-dip bag to lesser known names. The pre – show discussion ‘Losers?!’ at The Place last week began to touch on such matters, also posing the question of the merits of work being ‘judged’ and where the parameters or guidelines for this judgement can possibly lie.
The question might then extend to how much information we really need about a work prior to watching it: the question of the programme note. Some seem to rely on being able to give their audience some vital background information, whilst others feel that if it can’t be said with the composition on the stage, then they shouldn’t be attempting to say it, as was referred to at this year’s Place Prize final.
I wonder if a feeling of ‘empty vessel-ness’, or of amnesia regarding anything gone before is to become my favoured, blank canvas, objective approach to viewing works. To give everything equal attention, and banish foregone conclusions or expectations. Easier said than done, perhaps; but something I think could be a valid endeavour.