Isabel von Rittberg, artistic director of Acendance, leads Brent Ng and Gordon Graham along the wall during a workout.Cliff Grassmick
Isabel von Rittberg, artistic director of Acendance, leads Brent Ng and Gordon Graham along the wall during a workout. Cliff Grassmick ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

If you go

What: AscenDance Project Studio Opening

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: 5721 Arapahoe Ave., Unit C, Boulder

Cost: Suggested donation $10-$20

More info: ascendanceproject.com

W hen Marisa San Martin Kellogg was in high school, she was a competitive gymnast with an aching lower back from all of the sport's hard landings. Her back injury eventually forced her to quit the sport when she was 16 years old, and she never imagined she'd be able to find another creative, athletic outlet to fill the void gymnastics left in her life.

Now 23, she's finally filled that gap as a company member for AscenDance Project, a Boulder-based new movement group that combines the raw strength and power of climbing with the musicality and fluidity of dance. The AscenDance company will premier a new season of dancing on walls this Friday at their Boulder studio.

For San Martin Kellogg, a 2010 University of Colorado graduate and current gymnastics coach at CATS Gymnastics, dancing while climbing came naturally, and has helped her rehabilitate her lower back injury because of the movement's emphasis on core and upper body strength.

"I'd never seen anything like this before, and it's really quite special," she said.


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The AscenDance Project, which was featured on America's Got Talent in 2010, will showcase 11 dancers of all training backgrounds who perform to music on climbing walls and aluminum bars. It's climbing, but embellished with extra movements and sometimes synchronized, much like a traditional dance performance on a stage.

The company will perform about 10 pieces, each varying in style. Some emphasize the delicate beauty of ballet, while others take inspiration from the harder, sharper styles of parkour, breakdance and hip hop.

Company member Adam LaPlate had never had any formal dance training before he auditioned earlier this year. LaPlate, 25, comes from a parkour and freerunning background -- a movement and training style that uses running and jumping to overcome obstacles.

The variety of the dancers' backgrounds makes for a unique choreography experience for artistic director Isabel von Rittberg, who grew up in Germany and founded AscenDance Project in January 2006. The company moved to their studio on Arapahoe Avenue in March 2012.

The studio opening will feature one piece that includes five dancers in a figurative battle on the wall. The two sides will exchange blows while advancing and retreating across the surface, without ropes or harnesses. To get inspiration for pieces like this, von Rittberg listens to music constantly.

The emotion that the music evokes becomes the basis for her choreography, she said.

"Music is my life, it always has been," von Rittberg said.

Other pieces will feature solos and pairs of dancers on the wall, climbing to much softer music. The wide array of pieces, music genres and dance styles is what makes this studio premiere unique, von Rittberg said.

"The word that comes to mind is dynamic," said 32-year-old von Rittberg. "It's contemporary, but the interesting part is that we do have a little bit of everything."

--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.