ARTS AND FEATURES — 22 November 2013

By David Hennessy

The Albany in Deptford, London will host a world-conquering Irish dance troupe known for outlandish mix of dance and comedy next month. Ponydance have collected accolades at festivals such as Dublin Fringe and Adelaide Fringe, sold out a run at the American Dance Festival and been acclaimed at the Edinburgh Fringe. On December 5 and 6, they will present some alternative festive fun with their take on the traditional pantomime titled Pony Panto.

“I thought I’m gonna make a panto for grown ups,” Ponydance’s Leonie McDonagh tells The Irish World. “It’s quite adult humour. Young people can go it, it’s not obscene but it’s definitely geared towards adults because so much Christmas stuff is geared towards kids and families, this is definitely a grown up’s night out. It’s very cabaret, I MC the whole night and we have lots of the highlights from all of our shows, all of the best bits from Ponydance shows during the year and then we get lots of special guests in.”

It is a show that is hard to describe so when asked to describe Ponydance’s show for anyone unfamiliar with them, Leonie understandably exclaims with a laugh: “I hate this question because it’s so hard because I know in my own head but then to say it… It is hard to describe.”

Established since 2008, Ponydance is made up of trained dancers Leonie, who is from Galway, Paula O’Reilly from Co. Kildare, Duane Watters is from Bray, Co. Wicklow, Deirdre Griffin from Trim, Co. Meath, Ryan O’Neil from Belfast, Neil O’Brien from Dublin and Neil Hainsworth from Middlesbrough although not all of these are on each tour.

“It’s a clever mix of dance and comedy. We’re trained as dancers with really strong physical comedy. It’s definitely a bit ridiculous, it’s just chaos. It’s quite a rare thing where you can create chaos and the audience doesn’t know what’s going to happen next and we know what’s going on. And then every now and then, it goes wrong and we don’t know what’s going on and that’s the fun of it.

“You’re gonna laugh a lot and you’re gonna see some good dancing. It’s feel good stuff, the idea is to leave a pony dance show being glad to be alive. You think: ‘Yeah, that was great, let’s go out, let’s party’. We touch on sexuality, gender bending and we have the odd moral issue thrown in. We’re not remotely political, that’s not our mission. We’re not out to teach, we’re just out to enlighten. It’s retaining integrity without taking yourself horrendously seriously.

“A lot of our work with Ponydance is that lack of the fourth wall, we’re really about connecting with the audience. It’s almost like stand-up, you’re talking straight to your audience and each show bounces off each audience we get. We’ve done small shows and we’ve had times when those shows go off, people are losing their minds because they’re having such a good time.”

Leonie studied at the London Contemporary Dance School and Ponydance was born in the summer months that came during her studies. Their first gig took place in Roscommon and the group found an audience by gigging in pubs in order to grab an audience that wouldn’t set foot in a theatre. This year alone they have played Canada, American, Australia and New Zealand and it was their sell-out run in the US that stands out as a surreal highlight: “There’s been plenty of times when we’ve gone up to Donegal and you’re praying for people to show up. You’d be lucky to get 20 in the door and we’ve sold 1,000 tickets in America. It’s funny, is’nt it? You go down the road and people don’t give a shite about it, and then we go to America and they’re throwing us parties and welcoming us at the airport.”

Known for some clever audience participation, Ponydance have been named Best Dance Act at Adelaide Fringe Festival. The Irish Times have described their show as “joyous dance and sharp wit”, It has been called “clever and highly kinetic comedy” by The List. Further praise comes from Irish Theatre Magazine who say: “Ponydance drag contemporary into all the gaudiness of the now”. Three Weeks say they are : “A must see for dance lovers, a must see for dance haters”. Sean Connery says he has “never heard of them”.

In their show Where Did It All go Right?, Ponydance take a humorous look at what can go on between men and women in pubs and clubs and while their show is geared a little towards young people, it is really meant for anyone with a sense of humour: “I’ll never forget it, we were doing a show in Donegal and there were these two women in their 60s and 70s and they were laughing like schoolgirls. They were skitting and skitting and it made my year. Their faces were priceless but then there was this other couple at the other end of the row, in their 40s, didn’t even crack a smile. I don’t think I saw them smile once.”

Ponydance’s Pony Panto can be seen at The Albeny in Deptford on December 5 and 6. For more information, go to: http://www.thealbany.org.uk/. For more information about Ponydance, go to: ponydance.com/.

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