It’s All About the Left Coast

Left Coast Leaning features the next spate of West Coast stars.

It’s become cliché in the art world to talk about hybrids or
interdisciplinary cross-pollinations — or for that matter, the
protean nature of genre. But that’s the current aesthetic in a culture
dominated by hip-hop and other forms of pastiche, wherein most of us
grew up listening to DJ mash-ups on the radio; watching quickly edited,
montage-driven TV; and understanding that the meaning of something is
contingent on its context. The best artists out now are the ones with
some kind of classical mooring, who nonetheless opt for this postmodern
aesthetic: spoken-word poets who read Yeats and John Donne, then flip
their style of oration; jazz artists who use sampled loops; dancers who
morph different folkloric forms into their own visual vocabulary. Scads
of them have emerged in the Bay Area, incubated in places like Youth
Speaks, the Berkeley High Jazz Band, and Intersection for the Arts.
Some went off to New York to hone their craft but still have strong
roots out West. This weekend, they’ll convene at one of the most
exciting performance festivals of the year.

Called Left Coast Leaning, it’s the latest offering from
Oakland-based poet, dancer, and curator Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and it
features a mix of young spoken-word poets, jazz musicians, DJs,
songwriters, actors, playwrights, and dancers, alongside their more
established counterparts. Thursday’s event skews dance, with pieces by
Oberlin Dance Collective, Smuin Ballet’s Amy Seiwert, Headmistress, and
Zoe|Juniper, a Seattle-based company whose aesthetic closely resembles
that of ballet — “if it originated in the southern hemisphere,
during the twenty-first century,” said Joseph. Friday’s show includes
spoken word and movement by Rennie Harris Puremovement, Lauren
Whitehead, the Embodiment Project (the brainchild of dancer Nicole
Klaymoon), and the poetry duo Steve Connell and Sekou (aka Tha Misfit).
Most exciting yet is Saturday’s closing-night performance, during which
Oakland poet Chinaka Hodge will premiere parts of her forthcoming play,
Mirrors in Every Corner, about a phenotypically white child who,
by some alchemy, is born into a black family. (It’s sci-fi with social
dimensions, in the vein of Octavia Butler or Ray Bradbury.) She’ll be
accompanied by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and DJ TreatuNice, who
scored the play. Songwriter Denizen Kane, dance artist Sean San Jose,
and composer Holcombe Waller will add their own musical elements to the

A lot of these artists have never collaborated before, and some,
admittedly, have defected to New York (which still wins the industry
turf war, no matter what discipline you’re in). Nonetheless, Joseph
sees Left Coast Leaning as a potential birthing ground in more ways
than one. “That’s part of the dynamic — we’re trying to engender
conversation, and future collaborations,” said Joseph. “We’re
showcasing what’s happening next.” Left Coast Leaning runs December 3
through 5 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission St.,
San Francisco). 8 p.m., $10-$35.


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