From page to stage: Local dancers to present ‘Giving Tree’ at Del Mar Library


Although Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” was first published more than 50 years ago, the classic children’s book continues to influence culture in literature, music, film, and now, dance.

Inspired by the book, co-choreographers and dancers Erin Jelacic and Charlene Penner are taking the story from the page to the stage in their new piece, “The Giving Tree: a Dance Experience.” The pair will premiere the dance on March 13 at the Del Mar Library.

“To me, it’s a book with a profound lesson of what it means to give and take, and how we create relationships,” Penner said. “It really lent itself to the way that Erin and I dance.”

The duo met at a choreographer’s symposium in 2013, where they discovered their shared love of contact improvisation, a dance technique in which points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation.

Since then, they have formed a dance collaborative called Tumbleweed, mostly dancing for fun and in private. Their first public performance will take place at the Del Mar Library.

“It’s very genuine, very organic and very truthful, because it’s nothing that’s been set or memorized,” Jelacic said. “You’re really tuning into your environment, your partner and yourself.”

“Like a tumbleweed, it’s wild and it goes wherever it goes,” Penner added. “A dance makes its own path between us.”

Jelacic has been a choreographer in San Diego for more than five years. She teaches at Center Stage Children’s Theater and San Diego Danceworks. In 2010, she and another dance partner, Drew Ornelas, established the performance group and production company Dark Horse Dance Productions.

Penner has worked in the San Diego dance community since 1999, specializing in butoh, an avant-garde performance art that originated in Japan. She also works with San Diego-based Wheelchair Dancers Organization, which offers a wheelchair dance program for people with disabilities.

“Tumbleweed grew out of the connection that we have and our willingness to explore,” Penner said.

Also sharing a love of literature, the two friends often swap books. After Penner borrowed “The Giving Tree” from Jelacic, they began working on an interpretative piece.

“Every time we do the piece, it’s never the same,” Penner said. “It’s a semblance. It holds certain energetic qualities, but we don’t decide, ‘Let’s do it this way or that way,’ it always just happens. And every time, it’s a wonderful exchange.”

“The story is just so universal,” said Jelacic, adding that “The Giving Tree” was one of her favorite childhood books. “We just knew it was a perfect thing to express through dance.”

The special after-hours event begins at 6 p.m. March 13 at the Del Mar Library, 1309 Camino del Mar in Del Mar. After the performance, the audience will be invited to participate in a read-aloud of the book.

“It’s a story that transcends time and generations,” Jelacic said. “I think it’s something that anybody can enjoy.”