- Ivo Van Hove Onstage by David Willinger
Few people have followed Ivo van Hove's trajectory as closely as David Willinger. Indeed, it was Willinger who published the first articles on the director's initial production, Rumors, in The Drama Review and the Flemish newspaper De Standaard. A small-scale production, Rumors was initially neglected by the press. Only when Willinger, who was researching the theatre in Belgium, drew attention to the outstanding quality of the performance did Flemish reviewers flood the small auditorium. It marked the beginning of Willinger's life-long fascination with Ivo van Hove's work, a fascination that has now resulted in a richly documented book that spans the director's entire career.
Although technically an "edited collection," the bulk of the volume is written by Willinger himself. His contributions consist of two major parts: the first considers different thematic motifs in van Hove's oeuvre, while the second presents performance analyses of fifteen key productions. Willinger's contribution is followed by five essays in which other scholars focus on one or more of the major productions.
Through the course of his two parts, Willinger considers the entirety of van Hove's career, from its early beginning in Antwerp, to his artistic leadership of Zuidelijk Toneel and the direction of the Holland Festival, right up to his current role as the director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam (now Internationaal Theater Amsterdam). Never falling into the trap of idolatry, Willinger does not shy away from considering the difficulties that have cropped up in van Hove's career. In particular, his early years as head of Toneelgroep Amsterdam were turbulent, with an ensemble that could not cope with his more distant style, leading some actors to leave the company. That his first productions were not greeted enthusiastically only compounded the problem. Willinger also considers van Hove's decision to combine the leadership of both the Holland Festival and Toneelgroep—a decision met with severe criticism, and which eventually led to his giving up the former position.
The first part of Willinger's contribution is organized not chronologically, but thematically, around recurring themes in van Hove's work such as sex and violence, and he highlights performances that underscore these themes. Although this approach does not encompass all of van Hove's productions, it still amounts to considerable coverage and offers a thorough overview of his work, as elaborate [End Page 247] performance analyses are interwoven with these thematic explorations. Willinger proves himself a skilled and knowledgeable guide, certainly greatly helped by his understanding of Dutch, his extensive references to newspaper and magazine reviews, his knowledge of the Flemish Wave in the 1980s, and his grasp of the (often complicated) political, religious, and social background of Belgium. By juxtaposing productions from different decades, Willinger illuminates how tropes and concerns in early productions like Rumors and Disease Germs recur in later work. This organizational schema only occasionally leads to some confusion about the period under discussion, but in most cases it lays bare van Hove's artistic signatures.
Although van Hove does not like theorizing about his productions, Willinger argues that in its physicality, his work is strongly influenced by Artaud and Grotowski. After 9/11, his productions reveal a stronger social comment, influenced by, among others, Bauman, Sloterdijk, Rancière, Agamben, Nussbaum, and not least by Patrice Chéreau. We see van Hove hovering between political involvement and aestheticism, which, according to Willinger, may be the result of his dual roles of director and artistic director. At the same time, however, it is difficult to pigeonhole van Hove: once called a "maximalist minimalist," he oscillates between queer and straight tropes, visual and textual theatre, and also, as his fame rose to international heights, between rebelliousness and compromise. Van Hove's pragmatism, for instance, can be seen in his domestication of the explicit character of his performances for American audiences.
In the second part of his contribution, Willinger sets out to closely analyze several productions in chronological order, while still making many comparisons to other performances and film adaptations. This second section...