The critical list guide to 2011

What to watch, read and listen to - and everything else that's hot in the arts this year
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The Independent Culture


Anna Picard

Mahler fans can revel in the second of two anniversary years.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the LPO in Mahler's Fifth Symphony on 19 January, while Vassily Petrenko and the Liverpool Philharmonic continue their cycle with the Sixth (5 Mar). Maurizio Pollini surveys Bach, Beethoven and Schubert at the South Bank (from 28 Jan), home to Esa-Pekka Salonen's Bartók project, Infernal Dance, which opens 27 January with a complete performance of The Miraculous Mandarin.

Opera North looks East with Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Portrait (2 Feb) and Janácek's House of the Dead (from 5 May). At the Royal Opera House, it's centrefolds and southern fried chicken as Eva-Maria Westbroek takes the title role in Turnage's Anna Nicole (17 Feb). Thrifty opera-lovers should watch the conservatoires for new talent: Stephen Barlow's production of Dialogues des Carmelites opens (3 Mar) at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Glyndebourne and Grange Park think big with new productions of Die Meistersinger (21 May) and Tristan und Isolde (3 Jun). Simon Rattle opens the Aldeburgh Festival with Messaien's Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum (10 Jun), while Opera Holland Park tackles La Wally (29 Jul). Liszt, born 200 years ago, should feature highly in the BBC Proms. For those who can't wait until summer, Hyperion releases its 98-disc boxed set of his complete piano music next month, played by Leslie Howard.

The one to watch: The golden countertenor Iestyn Davies sings at the Wigmore, La Scala, New York's Metropolitan Opera, and as Oberon in ENO's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Visual Art

Charles Darwent

Was there ever a groovier time and place than New York in the 1970s? Or a funkier trio than Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown and Gordon Matta-Clark? Well, no. Against a crumbling Manhattan skyline, they set up that edgiest of things, the Downtown Scene. Relive it at the Barbican (3 Mar to 21 May).

If 1890s decadence is more your bag, then the Courtauld Gallery's study of the friendship between Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and the unexpectedly equally aristocratic can-can dancer, Jane Avril, is the one for you (16 Jun to 18 Sep).

The encrypted abstracts of Joan Miró (1893-1983) deal with a history that starts with the Great War and ends with post-Franco Spain. The Tate Modern show - inexplicably, the first major Miró exhibition in London for 50 years, inset below, is sure to bust all blocks (14 Apr to 11 Sep).

The one I'm looking forward to most is of the 16th-century master, Jan Gossaert, at the National Gallery (23 Feb to 30 May). While seldom lovable, his eye-teasing portraits and Holy Families have a glacial beauty.

The one to watch: In a day when public sculpture veers between soulless and kitsch, young Scot Michael Vissocchi, winner of the last Jerwood sculpture prize, offers a new monumental voice. Don't expect to see his work on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth: it's too good.


Phil Johnson

The chance to see a cult attraction in a mainstream setting doesn't get much better than the appearance of the Brazilian singer and guitarist Vinicius Cantuaria in a duo with guitarist Bill Frisell, in the emphatically non-cult setting of London's Ronnie Scott's (11 and 12 Jan). It's a great opportunity to hear the alternately smooth and spiky sound-world of Cantuaria, whose updates on the bossa nova tradition take as much from the downtown New York City as they do from Rio. There's another cult offering when north London's The Vortex launches a new literary series with a reading by Geoff Dyer (13 Jan), the author of what Keith Jarrett called "the best book ever written about jazz".

The one to watch: Vinicius Cantuaria


Howard Male

Over the past couple of years, West African music fans have delighted in a wealth of re-released material from Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. This year sees the release of their first new album of new material in 20 years, and also sees them play live at the Scala in King's Cross (31 Mar). The next Buena Vista Social Club is always being predicted, but personally I'm hoping for something a little edgier from this earthy, funky outfit. I'm also looking forward to new releases from the unselfconsciously eclectic Denver-based band DeVotchKa and the Ethiopiques-meets-roots-reggae collective Dub Colossus. Both these bands are going where no band has gone before, and that, for my money, is what it's all about.

The one to watch: Dub Colossus.


Jenny Gilbert

No one likes shelling out on a dud, so Sadler's Wells Sampled (28 & 29 Jan) lets you try before you buy. For only £12 a seat, or £6 standing, punters can see live excerpts from coming attractions, including stars from American Ballet Theatre, due to present two double bills (1-6 Feb), Balletboyz' latest venture, and a taster of ZooNation's Some Like it Hip Hop. What won't be in preview are the equestrian stars of The Centaur and the Animal (1-6 Mar), a dressage show from Spain in which elements of man and horse meet and merge. Most eagerly awaited of all at the Wells is the Pet Shop Boys' collaboration with Javier de Frutos in a full-length dancework based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Incredible Thing, with ex-Royal Ballet star Ivan Putrov (17-26 Mar). The Royal Ballet pushes the boat out with Christopher Wheeldon's new, full-evening Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, above, to a new score by Joby Talbot (2-15 Mar).

The one to watch: The fabulous new principal Sergei Polunin, in Alice, and making his RB debut in Giselle (12 Jan).


Simon Price

For what feels like the tenth successive year, the early months of 2011 will see the industry and media conspire to install a gaggle of new solo females. Heading the list is Jessie J, a Siobhan Fahey-faced shouter from Essex whose "Do It Like A Dude" saw her scoop both the BBC's Sound of 2011 poll and Critic's Choice at the forthcoming Brits. Like it or loathe it, she'll be inescapable.

Expect coercion campaigns behind foghorn-voiced Brummie Clare Maguire and rent-a-collaborator Katy B. There may even be another attempt to launch I Blame Coco (Sting's daughter). More interesting is the still under wraps Paper Tiger, a Brighton-based wonky-pop protegée of Preston from The Ordinary Boys.

Another exciting spring for fans of nepotism, as the full weight of hipster hype gets thrown behind Ramones soundalikes The Vaccines. Morecambe soul-punks The Heartbreaks will deservedly get the big push. Meanwhile, protest-pop berserker The Agitator and R&B commies Thee Faction may chime with the political mood.

Even more than previous Britpop reunions (Suede, Blur), a special edge of excitement surrounded the announcement that Jarvis Cocker was reconvening the classic line-up of the mighty Pulp for a handful of festival shows in the summer.

The Playbutton may just be the saviour of the "physical" product. A pre-recorded MP3 player in the form of a two-inch badge bearing the album's artwork, it allows the wearer to show off their taste, like ostentatiously brandishing a Penguin paperback.


Simmy Richman

The BBC's Sound of 2011 poll has value but away from the bolt-on mainstream stars-in-the-making only Anna Calvi will be of serious interest to serious music lovers. And the truth is (spoiler alert!): music writers cannot see into the future. In that spirit, I'm going to take it as read that you don't need me to tell you that The Decemberists (poppier, almost REM-ey), Iron & Wine (more experimental) and Fleet Foxes (more of the same would be no bad thing) will all deliver albums soon and that they will be full of the good stuff.

Of the new acts, the albums I'm most excited about all seem to come from female singers who together form a sort of anti-Gaga army: pure, unadulterated with a lack of affectation. That list includes Secret Sisters (Alabama-born siblings singing old-fashioned country in voices that can break your heart), Zoe Muth (more country, this time with a Seattle-ite's urban edge) and our own Hannah Peel (dark folky loveliness with a Tunng twist).

And then there is James Walbourne, once the guitarist in Peter Bruntnell's band, who this month releases his first solo album, a must for lovers of the Jayhawks, whose own classic early albums are about to be dusted down in search of the glory they so richly deserve.

But the thing I'm most excited about is a musical. Regina Spektor's Sleeping Beauty is due to open on Broadway this year, but you never know. You can't rush genius.

The one to watch: Hannah Peel.


Kate Bassett

The West End's Nöel Coward theatre gets adventurous in mid-January, presenting the Muscovite Sovremennik company's Three Sisters, Cherry Orchard, and Into the Whirlwind – memories of Stalin's gulags. Cheek by Jowl's extraordinary Russian ensemble tours with The Tempest, from March.

Hotshot Rupert Gould stages The Merchant of Venice at Stratford's rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre in May. Come June, Kevin Spacey steals the limelight as Sam Mendes's Old Vic Richard III.

Next month, Robert Lepage wings his way to the Barbican for The Blue Dragon: a sequel to his epic Dragon's Trilogy. In March, a sinister new Neil LaBute, In a Forest, Dark and Deep, slinks into the Vaudeville, starring Olivia Williams.

The Holy Rosenbergs marks playwright Ryan Craig's National Theatre debut, in March: Henry Goodman plays a Jewish father whose offspring radically disagree over Gaza. In February, climate change creeds are scrutinised, in an NT documentary drama, Greenland, and in polemicist Richard Bean's new black comedy, The Heretic, at the Royal Court.

The one to watch: Jessica Raine, having caught the eye in edgy teenage roles, will star in Clifford Odets' Rocket to the Moon at the NT in March. She plays the ferocious seductress Cleo Singer, sending Joseph Millson's repressed Ben Stark into a spin.


Jenny Gilbert

Buoyed by the increased footfall generated by Radio 4's A History of the World in 100 Objects, the British Museum is on a roll. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (from 3 Mar) will showcase more than 200 artefacts belonging to the National Museum of Afghanistan (a building "undergoing reconstruction"). They range from Classical sculpture, Roman glass, and stone tableware from Egypt, to personal ornaments worn by the nomadic elite, all feared lost after the Soviet invasion of 1979. Their survival is due to Afghan officials who hid them from the Taliban. Also at the British Museum, Treasures of Heaven (from 23 Jun) assembles sacred objects of the medieval age, when physical relics of the saints were believed to connect man and heaven.

As if taking up the baton from the Barbican Art Gallery, whose Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion continues (to 6 Feb), the Victoria & Albert fêtes Yohji Yamamoto (from 12 Mar), one of the world's most provokingly enigmatic designers of fashion.

The National Army Museum's Wives and Sweethearts (9 Feb) looks at love on the frontline in the Napoleonic, Crimean and World War conflicts as well as today's. Also in February, the Herbert Museum in Coventry launches its own blockbuster, Secret Egypt, and vows to dispel some popular myths.

Film (Art House)

Jonathan Romney

The art-house idols of 2011 will be animals. A 40-year-old orang-utan is the hyper-charismatic star of Nénette, from French documentarist Nicolas Philibert (Etre et Avoir), while the year's cult European hit could be Le Quattro Volte, a dialogue-free Italian marvel in which the show is stolen by a herd of goats and a dog with the comic timing of Jacques Tati.

National treasures Terence Davies and Lynne Ramsay return with new fictions: respectively, Terence Rattigan adaptation The Deep Blue Sea and problem-child drama We Need To Talk About Kevin.

The Coen brothers gee up the Western tradition with Jeff Bridges in a magnificent remake of True Grit, inset below, Martin Scorsese goes 3D with robot fantasy Hugo Cabret; David Cronenberg hits the couch for A Dangerous Method, his take on Freud and Jung; and Terence Malick ponders the meaning of it all in Tree of Life. And, if you need of cheering up, there's Lars von Trier's end-of-the-world drama, Melancholia.

And my wish for 2011? That Iran shouldfree director Jafar Panahi (Offside, The Circle) and lift its gag on his film-making.

One to watch: Mr Unavoidable in 2011 is Tom Hiddleston (The Deep Blue Sea, Kenneth Branagh's Thor, Steven Spielberg's War Horse) and much more.

Film (Mainstream)

Nicholas Barber

Superheroes abound: there's Green Hornet (14 Jan) with Seth Rogen, directed by Michel Gondry; the Hornet's near-namesake, the Green Lantern (17 Jun) played by Ryan Reynolds; Marvel paves the way for its team-up blockbuster, The Avengers, by introducing two more of the personnel: Thor (29 Apr) and Captain America: The First Avenger (29 Jul).

There's a double helping of Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau (4 Mar) – in which he and Emily Blunt dodge the agents of Fate – and Steven Soderbergh's Contagion (21 Oct), where he faces a "lethal airborne virus".

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (26 Oct), is a motion-capture version of Hergé's adventures (Avatar style, in other words), directed by Steven Spielberg. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (16 Sep), Gary Oldman finally tackles a worthy role as John le Carré's George Smiley.

Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (18 May) zeroes in on Johnny Depp's Captain Jack. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have walked the plank.

One to watch: Rooney Mara, right, is The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (due 26 Dec).


Hugh Montgomery

Drama gets off to a good start as Channel 4 serves up The Promise (Feb), Peter Kosminsky's four-part serial about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and BBC2's Christopher and His Kind (Feb) sees Doctor Who, Matt Smith, play it fast and louche as novelist Christopher Isherwood in pre-war Berlin. Elsewhere, ITV puts its faith in the supernatural with Marchlands (early Feb), a tale of a haunted house across the eras, and new US import channel Sky Atlantic launches with the first series of Martin Scorsese's much-hyped Prohibition saga Boardwalk Empire (early Feb).

For laughs, Episodes (BBC2, 10 Jan), a sitcom about the making of a sitcom, stars Matt LeBlanc as himself alongside Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan. Meanwhile Greig also crops up in Friday Night Dinner (Channel 4, late Feb) centred on a Jewish family's weekly get-togethers.

Many families will tune in to sub-Strictly jamboree Dancing on Ice (ITV1, 9 Jan), back with a more nondescript line-up than ever, while the retail doyenne Mary Portas, right, makes a more welcome return with a new show challenging customer service (Channel 4, Jan). For genuine "reality TV", there's How TV Ruined Your Life (BBC2, late Jan/Feb) in which the ever scabrous Charlie Brooker dissects the lies fed to us by the small screen.