Noel Plemmons and Keely McIntyre in an inventive excerpt from "Home Made," which uses a combination of voice, film and choreography.
"What are you trying to say?"
It's a question that could be sardonic, frustrated or genuinely curious, and the latest edition of the Left Coast Leaning Festival, which opened at the Forum at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Friday, evoked a combination of those moods in a program of works that was inventive, perplexing, combative and delightful.
This is the third year for Left Coast Leaning, a co-presentation of YBCA with Marc Bamuthi Joseph's Living Word Project, and the mission - to seek out works of a distinctively West Coast voice that "emanate from a guttural, visceral place," as Joseph says - continues to be both provocative and appealing. But as is often the case with festival programs, the lineup of five works - by local performers as well as artists from Los Angeles and Portland, Ore. - is hit-and-miss.
"Replicant VS Separatist," by the L.A.-based Alexandro Segade, casts Jesse James Rice and Justin Streichman as actors in a movie within a play that puts a dystopian spin on the institutionalization of same-sex marriage.
More cutting, Rafael Casal's solo monologue, "The Limp," offers an incisive glimpse inside the male mind, couched as a conversation among three roommates, who could be stand-ins for the id, ego and superego. Scattered in Casal's bittersweet observations is a compelling meditation on the confusion and disillusion of the modern guy.
The rambling "Up Against Nothing" by the Anna Martine Whitehead Group is among the most uncomfortable and mystifying works of the night. Film of minstrel shows and flashing exhortations for applause formed the backdrop for Whitehead and fellow performers Brontez Purnell and Shawnrey Notto in what seemed to be a denunciation of racial stereotypes and body dysmorphia. Unfortunately, although the desperate desire to communicate was palpable, a lack of coherency to the overall piece undercut the message.
The Oregon-based Angelle Hebert and Phillip Kraft contributed an inventive excerpt from "Home Made." A combination of voice, film and choreography, the piece's opening premise is an elegant one. Dancers Keely McIntyre and Noel Plemmons create shadowy movements under a thin white sheet of fabric while simultaneously shooting video of each other that is projected on a screen above. The video is so close as to be clinical, and yet the abstraction of tented, anonymous shapes moving to the vocalizations of Luke Matter and Cali Ricks creates a strangely fascinating intimacy.
By far, though, the strongest statement of the night comes from "Sole Love," which L.A. tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith premiered to close the program. Playful yet insistent, driving as well as classy, Samuels Smith's segment alone is worth the price of admission. And clearly he has something to say, even if that something can't be articulated in words. A laconic scuff of his heel and a sly look as he pauses draws a giggle from the audience. "Well?" someone says aloud.
Backed up by trombone, bassoon and clarinet, Samuels Smith launches into fusillades of tap so powerful that vibrations resonate through the floor and into the audience. Now that's a visceral experience.
Left Coast Leaning: 8 p.m. today. YBCA Forum, 701 Mission St., S.F. $5-$15. (415) 978-2787. www.ybca.org.
This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle