No ropes, no silks, and no wires existed, yet the dancers of AscenDance Project were suspended in the air. The world premiere of New Heights: Dancing on the Walls that Divide Us appeared at the Dairy Arts Center on October 12 & 13, 2019. With this new work, AscenDance Project strives to call attention to the numerous ways division can transpire, then counters it with connection.
Upon entering the theater, it was impossible to miss the imposing dark structure covered in hand and foot holds that dominated the stage. It looks like a climbing wall, but surely not one found in a typical gym. Rather, this climbing wall is studiously and carefully crafted for synchronized movements. Performed perpendicular to the floor by means of pure strength, this movement fusion of rock climbing and dance created by AscenDance Project founder and artistic director, Isabel von Rittberg, was powerfully mesmerizing.
True to intention, the 22 pieces in the program touched on a slew of dividing factors, from physical walls, both historical and proposed, to interpersonal differences, relationships, beliefs, physical distances, unnecessary rules, and hate. AscenDance Project embraces the irony of a literal wall to illustrate the many ways there are to overcome these rifts and connect with each other. Most of the pieces were very short, definitely leaving the viewer wanting more, but sometimes feeling unfinished, like a conversation cut short.
The choreography mimicked the texture of the music and was performed with precision by the dancers. With alternately diverging, coinciding, and even crossing pathways, the more dancers on the wall at a time, the more interesting the movement and choreography became. Nothing seemed off limits; dancers hovered above the floor by their hands, their feet, and even each other. Not one part of the stage and structure remained unused throughout the performance. At one point, the wall became the attachment point for a fabric screen and footage of scenes from the fall of the Berlin Wall was projected onto it. This film then flowed into a grounded duet, culminating in one of the more creative uses of film and screens that this reviewer has ever witnessed.
The program was curated so well that even though almost every piece had a different costume attached to it, there was no disruption in flow. Costume choices were appropriate for the movement style, necessarily form fitting to both present the movement lines and to avoid the danger of tangling in fabric that more robust costumes might present. The poignantly beautiful lighting, designed by Craig Bushman, highlighted the musculature of the dancers, evidence of the strength both required by the art, and developed by it. Bushman possesses the ability to draw the eye exactly where it needs to go and eliminate unnecessary space. This was especially evident in Von Rittberg’s solo, Dream, when the stage seemed suddenly smaller and more focused, and Von Rittberg’s lithe form the only thing left in the world.
This reviewer attended the production’s dress rehearsal, which garnered insight into the process and safety needs of dancers working in this way: the absence of full blackout between pieces, for example. Also in attendance were participants of Circle of Care, an organization that strives to provide arts accessibility and community for older adults in the Boulder area. The twenty people viewing New Heights made for a most enthusiastic audience. Each piece was met with whoops and hollers and sighs of satisfaction. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see AscenDance Project in Action, keep an eye out for future performances here. You won’t want to miss out on this unique and daring company.
Jessica Riggs is the Director of Life/Art Dance Ensemble, a 501(c)3 registered nonprofit dance company that focuses on artistic collaboration and making the arts more accessible. She possesses Bachelors degrees in both Dance and Dietetics from Colorado State University, as well as a Masters degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition. In addition to Life/Art’s productions, Jessica’s choreography has been featured in Ascential Dance Theatre’s Assemblage, Transition Theater’s Kali Creates Fate, GAMMA-UT’s New Music Festival at the University of Texas, the Dairy Arts Center’s Women in Classical Music Soundscape concert, and in Prague at the American Music Festival in collaboration with Stratus Chamber Orchestra. Jessica also dances with Cindy Brandle Dance Company and the Lost Walks Band and teaches dance classes at the Lakewood Cultural Center.