A dance/theatre company with a name like Ponydance sounds as if it wouldn't take itself too seriously.
“We’re half comedy, half dance,” confirms Ponydance artistic director Leonie McDonagh. The Irish company with the whimsical name will be playing the Fringe World Festival.
A glance through YouTube teasers on Ponydance’s website suggests that McDonagh’s 50-50 assessment is pretty accurate. Performing in a myriad settings — including shops, footpaths, small bars and even smaller theatres — Ponydance’s moves are drawn from contemporary dance, jazz, street styles and disco, with a generous dollop of comic theatricality. Clad in tracksuits, 80s-style lycra, sporty underwear or dressed up for a night on the tiles, the overwhelming impression is that Ponydance know how to have fun.
Although McDonagh established Ponydance in 2005, its origins go back to her days as a student at the London Contemporary Dance School. “During the summer holidays I’d come home to Belfast and I kept making pieces with the same people, Paula O’Reilly and Duane Watters.” recalls McDonagh. “They became the founding members of Ponydance.”
From little things, big things grew. “We did one show to 20 people in the town hall and then the next year we did three shows to maybe 25 people. We just kept growing each year, getting more and more work, until this year we’re literally touring the world.”
It sounds easy but McDonagh has had her share of challenges. “When I was in second year at LCDS I got pregnant,” she says. “I finished second year with a big bump.”
With what I come to recognise as her customary positive outlook, McDonagh says there were upsides to full-time dance training while pregnant. “I found ballet almost impossible because my centre of gravity was so different,” she admits. “But then I did release technique and I loved that when I was pregnant because it’s all about weight into the floor ... it was lovely. The first few months I got morning sickness which lasted all day and that was a challenge, but after that it was better — people are super nice to you when you’re walking around with a bump.”
The financial reality of running a small, independent company has been another hurdle.
“Lack of money and time are the biggest challenges for Ponydance,” she says. “We’ve gotten really good at making quality work in a short amount of time, and good at eating beans and oven chips. The focus is always on making good work — when you stick with that money will follow. That’s been our motto.”
As McDonagh observes, it’s working for them. They are now associate artists of the Metropolitan Arts Centre in Belfast.
“It’s paying out now,” she says. “We’re getting paid gigs, funding support.”
As winners of the best dance award at the 2012 Adelaide Fringe, Ponydance are arriving back in Australia with a reputation to uphold. So what can punters expect from Anybody Waitin’?
“It’s all the funny parts of a night out,” McDonagh says. “People will be entertained, they’ll probably cringe a bit and they’ll relate to it. They’ll have moments of thinking ‘Oh yeah, I did something like that’ or ‘Oh, hahaha I’ve seen my friend do that’.”
Ponydance perform at The West Australian Idolize Spiegeltent on February 12 and 13 as part of Fringe World 2013. Tickets are available from www.fringeworld.com.au