A Berkeley team of climber-dancers has made it to the Top 48 of the current season of America’s Got Talent. As can be seen on the video above, AscenDance Project, which was founded by Isabel Von Rittberg while she was living in her van in Berkeley, blends graceful dance movement with eye-poppingly difficult rock climbing techniques.

German-born Von Rittberg built her first climbing wall designed for dancing in 2005 which was also when she met Ryan Gaunt while climbing on the eastern side of the Sierras. Inspired by her vision, Gaunt joined AscenDance in 2006 after working for Yosemite National Park Search and Rescue. Two years later, he proposed to Von Rittberg during a performance at Union Square, San Francisco.

AscenDance Project’s team has performed all over the Bay Area, including a two-week run at Ashby Stage in Berkeley earlier this year. They also hold dance-climb fusion classes where participants work at vertical aerobics, core strength, coordination, sustained flow, speed-climbing, dance-climb aesthetics, aerial tricks and choreographed sequences. Surprisingly perhaps, the classes are  deemed suitable for people without previous climbing experience.

On the group’s website, Rittberg writes that “movement on a vertical stage, without the use of ropes, has a beauty and grace enhanced by the effects of gravity on the dancer and his/her ability to overcome” — and we wouldn’t disagree.

It goes without saying that Berkeleyside is rooting for the home team.

Update, 8.19.10: Berkeleyside did contact Isabel Von Rittberg in the hope of talking to her about her work and America’s Got Talent experience. Von Rittberg got back to us, but unfortunately her lips are pretty much sealed. As she put it: “We are currently under a NBC contract that doesn’t allow for any interviews about AGT other than those they arrange for. We are only allowed one interview with a newspaper and they have to set it up… I can’t really talk about the experiences or anything personal or subjective about AGT.” Hopefully we will catch up with Von Rittberg when she and her team have been released from their contractual obligations.

Update, 8.21.10: AscenDance will be performing this Tuesday night on NBC for the America’s Got Talent semi-finals.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...