Ivo van Hove’s cultural highlights

Belgian theater director Ivo van Hove, 64, has been the artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, now Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, since 2001. His ‘maximalist minimalist’ productions have included the Tony and Olivier-winning film A view from the bridge at the Young Vic, Lazarus at King’s Cross Theater and Hedda Gabler to the national team. He also directed the 2009 film Amsterdam and a number of works such as Salome of Richard Strauss and Wagner Ring cycle. Hanya Yanagihara’s Van Hove adaptation A little lifewith James Norton and Omari Douglas, it is at the Harold Pinter Theater from March 25th to June 18th and at the Savoy Theater from July 4th to August 5th.

1. Theater

A Streetcar Named Desire, Phoenix Theatre, London, 20 March-6 May

This is a must see directed by the wonderful Rebecca Frecknall [which I saw at the Almeida theatre]. The audience sat around a bare stage and actors continually entered from all sides. It created a claustrophobic atmosphere; you could smell the sweat of the actors. It was an intense setting for the clash between Southern belle Blanche DuBois and her sister Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski. The highlight of the evening was Paul Mescal’s visceral and magnetic performance: he makes us forget the genius Marlon Brando and shows us Stanley as a working-class man, a Polish immigrant who has to fight (literally) for a position in the United States.

2. Restaurant

Jose, London SE1

When I work in London I always stay in the same flat in my beloved South London. On Saturdays I like to go to José, an authentic Spanish tapas restaurant. Enjoy croquetas, pan con tomate and more, and don’t forget to pair it with a good glass of wine. It is a small, welcoming, familiar place, with a few tables and a bar, as if you were in a small village in Spain, or a guest at a friend’s house where the chef prepares the meal in a small open kitchen. It’s always full of people.

3. Film

Close (by Lukas Dhont)

This is one of the best movies I’ve seen lately. The film begins as a tender portrait of an intense and innocent friendship between two inseparable boys. Then they start to adjust their behavior due to the bullying environment of their friends at school. And then a catastrophe happens. The storytelling is nuanced and understated, and the film is visually polished and very cinematic. It received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film. I have to admit that I cried three times while watching it.

4. Dance

Futur Proche by Jan Martens

Jan Martens is the new star of contemporary dance. Future proche it begins with people dressed in normal clothes entering the stage, gradually revealing themselves to be dancers. It is masterfully inventive choreography, dealing with how to move forward in a world threatened by big issues, such as war or the climate crisis. In one of the key scenes, the dancers form a chain to bring in countless buckets of water and fill a giant tub, into which they then dip, dip, and emerge reborn. A wonderful and hopeful ode to the power of unity.

5. Book

Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo

Shuggie Bain was the story of a boy living with his alcoholic mother in 1980s Glasgow. In Young Mungo we meet a different boy, in 1993. There are two stories: one of Mungo accompanied by two men to a lake in the Highlands to make him more “manly”, and the other a love story between the Protestant Mungo and the Catholic James. Stuart immerses this in phenomenal descriptions of Glasgow. It’s a page-turner: heartbreaking and poetic, perfectly balancing cruelty and beauty.

6. Music

Julius Eastmann

I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it until recently when a friend told me about it. Julius Eastman was a black and gay composer who died in 1990 at the age of 49. It’s a pity that he is never cited as one of the founders of minimal music alongside Steve Reich and Philip Glass. He brings emotion to the genre. People should listen to his music: it’s ecstatic, refined, driven by an unstoppable inner fire. Some of my favorite pieces are Gay guerrilla AND The Holy Presence of Joan of Arc.

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