I was 18 when I sat on the floor with my 5-year-old cousin and read her Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. She looked up at me at the end, slightly confused, as I closed the book and let out a long sigh, followed by a short sniffle and some not-very-sneaky eye-wiping. I think we were both shocked that a 64-page illustrated children's story could bring a grown-up (in her eyes, at least) to tears.
Call me a masochist, but this is exactly why I can't wait to see Pieces.
The newest production of Colorado Springs' Our Community Dance Company, Pieces pulls nine company dancers and three guest actors, as well as the musical talents of local composer and indie rocker Kellie Palmblad, into a night of storytelling inspired by a man with an innate ability to jerk tears and induce laughs.
Director Lisa McElroy found the impetus for Pieces in a box of books that an OCDC member had recently received from her mother. Amid the stacks was the dancer's old collection of Silverstein's work, which, arriving just as the company was searching for new inspiration, sparked a series of ideas.
"We took the material to the company, and everybody just fell in love with it," McElroy says, explaining that The Giving Tree, a story of a tree's unconditional love and sacrifice for a boy, became the focal point for the multimedia show.
In an intimate stage space, audience members will sit beneath the branches of their very own Giving Tree, which will be slowly and steadily dismantled as the evening progresses. In costumes that help create a circus-punk feel, dancers will intersperse seven performances, each inspired by one of Silverstein's poems. Video art by Tom McElroy will not only add framing for the set and the dances but also represent selected poems.
And Pieces will also include some of Silverstein's theatrical work as a way of showing his immense oeuvre — which ranges from children's poetry to cartoons for Playboy. In fact, McElroy says, "Pieces was created for adults. It's supposed to be edgy." She says the cast welcomes children to its audience, but the company has chosen to stick to Silverstein's own words, some of which are strong.
"I think what's exciting about the work is that your first take on it might be that it's very childish, but most of his work was done in the '70s and '80s and has underlying political views," McElroy says. "A lot have to do with self-esteem and not listening to the people who tell you that you can't do something. The most exciting part is showing people that there's a whole other side to his work."