On Honesty in Motion | Twine Magazine


By Patrycja Humienik

At a ballet, I will raise my eyebrows and clap and delight in all of its aesthetic glory--oh, legs! legs!--but both as observer and mover, I am moved more by the experience of a performance. When a performance generates a new question, some feeling of inspiration, or simply tells a very good joke (the kind that produces belly-aching, ravenous laughter)--that is to say, when a performance disrupts daily routine, I am moved.There are those moments of honesty and intimacy, which I am finding increasingly more accessible in interactive performance and the fusion of dance forms.

The art of storytelling, be it through dance, writing or music, resides in that emotionally rooted space of honesty. This stays with us past the point of enchantment: for an audience member it begins, perhaps, with the arch of a back, a body swathed in lace, the teeter-totter between union and dissonance of music and movement; for a performer, it begins with the sweat, the kinesthetic sight, an unexpected moment of eye contact.

These are moments in dance that seem absurd to attempt to describe in words, when their beauty lies precisely in that which is syllable-free. As a mover, I have encountered a seeing and a speaking that occur without eyes and mouth. There is a sight that skin and breath have. Touch speaks. Breath is a reminder of continuous motion. Of rhythm. There is a boogie, there is a blues, the zest of tango, cheekbone nudging cheekbone--the zephyr of a lengthening wingspan, a blur of footwork, a hint of Twist, a Charleston kick, an undulation of the spine.

Body is a verb, and is better understood through movement than through the use of modifiers. Even so, the writer in me wrestles with words to distill meaning, to unweave stories, and to arrive at a place that is tender enough to be honest.

I would like to tell a story about community-based performance, honesty and fusion.

Imagine: you’re on a climbing wall, extending through arm, wrist and hands to reach that next hold. Now, imagine that you are also dancing.

AscenDance Project, a Boulder, Colo.-based dance and rock-climbing performing company, combines both of these. The company was founded in 2006 in the Bay Area by Isabel von Rittberg. Now located in Boulder, ADP’s company members have backgrounds spanning rock-climbing, ballet, gymnastics, Chinese pole, aerial dance, parkour, music and acroyoga. The movers, with Isabel’s guidance, collaborate on dances performed on the wall. They explore their vertical terrain ropeless.

Isabel is the founder and artistic director of AscenDance Project. This woman, in all of her sweetness, dedication and disciplined, German prowess, is willing to take risks. Risks like working to overcome gravity while wedged between canyons or sandstone bouldering. Risks like running a dance company, moreover a dance and rock-climbing company, when funds are limited, opportunities in dance are shrinking, and she doesn’t quite know how.

“I’m learning as I go,” she says laughing.

Isabel grew up a country-pumpkin in Wuppertal-Beyenburg, Germany. “That’s what I call myself, I got it wrong once, and now I say, ‘pumpkin’ instead of ‘bumpkin’. And I grew up riding little ponies without saddles, and milking cows, and watching chickens get their head cut off.”

Instilled in her was a deep love for music and dance; Isabel was taking piano lessons as soon as she could crawl up to a stool, and ballet soon after. Considering she grew up in the same town as Pina Bausch, this seems fitting. Ballet, however, did not hold her attention.

“Even though my mom and my teacher and everybody was trying to push me in that direction… it just wasn’t me,” she says. “Dance stayed in my life, though not professionally.” Isabel left Germany for the United States at 19 to find her own direction. Soon after, she found her calling to climb.

“When I started rock climbing, I re-found the aesthetics of movement asking me to create something,” she says.

In 2003, Isabel went to Chile and Argentina where she deepened her exploration of mountainous terrain. There, she connected with the climbing community over a shared passion, a love of athleticism and an appreciation for health. “The climbing world is friendly no matter where you go: It’s a safety net. In different parts of the world, the climbing community is where I land.”

But Isabel’s newfound love of climbing did not replace her connection to dance and music. “Something was starting to move in me in South America. I always talk about that time I drove through the Virgin River Gorge in Utah and looked at all the different walls left and right and how the sun was setting and how inspiring that was… but I think when I lived in South America something started moving in me. Some sort of a, God, this is so beautiful, why not make a dance out of it.”

So, she did.

For Isabel, dance and climbing are not separate. “To connect with people through your emotions, which evoke movement, and are emphasized by music, is any dancer’s dream,” she says. “It makes people cry, it makes you cry. It’s just that moment of honesty where the truth comes through. Where there’s no hesitation.”

The step through and twist over, pattern one, pattern two, swing, double-toe hang of climbing becomes, for Isabel, a dance. She says accessing dance when climbing isn’t all that difficult, once you’re comfortable on the wall. “You just have to find that freedom, confidence and willingness to express yourself. Whether it’s on the wall or on the floor it doesn’t really matter: it’s the same process.”

That process means embracing her sensitivity. Isabel says, “I feel like sometimes I’m running around on broken glass. I feel so sensitive to this world. Being able to feel it through movement or music, and accessing honesty through movement… it’s an outlet for me. It’s where I get to feel my whole self, because there is a lot going on. I am not one of those people who can just store it away.”

Music and dance have allowed her to be more honest. “When I’m on the wall, that’s where I feel safest. That’s my territory. So it gives me that space, to access through the body. Which is, you know, really all we have, that moment and that experience. I mean we have a lot in our heads, but it’s not real.” She laughs. “I think we have so much knowledge in our body. But we’re brought up in our heads. It’s pretty incredible, what we can sense.”

Isabel formed AscenDance Project in 2006. Support from her roots was slim to zilch. “In Germany I’d get asked, ‘Do you have a degree in this?’ I’d think, ‘I’m not supposed to have a degree; I’m trying something new.’ America is more open minded; Pina had offers to go to New York, you know, but she stuck with that little town she was so proud of being from. I, on the other hand, escaped to the U.S.”

Even in the U.S., however, artists must often resort to creating work “on a project-by-project basis, raising funds through crowdsourcing and fiscal sponsorships instead of forming companies, “according to Jean Davidson. In forming a fusion performing company, finances aren’t the only challenge. There remains finding the right space, the right movers, and creating work that resonates with people.

So far, it seems that AscenDance Project’s work has. The performance company reached a large audience through NBC’s America’s Got Talent in 2010, and have continued gaining momentum since.

“I think it’s because we are just honest. We are being ourselves.”

For AscenDance, “being ourselves” means collaboration across a fusion of movement modalities that integrate fluidity, precision, strength, risk-taking, and sensitivity to detail.

“We’re inventing the movement, naming the movement, and pushing limits every day. Every dancer has a different style and a different direction with it. You don’t really ever know what you’re going to get. And the music, same thing, we go through all different genres, whatever sparks inspiration. And I run with it.”

What else is there to do but run with what we have to offer, and offer it? When we tap into our sensitivity, our tenderness, we can touch one another through our offerings, and we move honestly.

AscenDance will have another workshop at their studio space, 5721 Arapahoe #C in Boulder this October 2012, and a Winter Home Season Performance. Visit www.ascendanceproject.com.

Patrycja Humienik is exploring honesty in motion through an interdisciplinary, collaborative project, The Exploratorium, featured Sept. 19-23 at the 2012 BolderLife Festival outside of the Kelly Barn in Boulder.

Gordon Graham