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 mix.
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. YBCA.org
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