ADF, Ponydance go pub crawling

Jul. 17, 2013 @ 08:02 AM

Ponydance takes pub-crawling to new lengths with its American Dance Festival debut this week. 

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, they’ve come from performances in a small pub in rural Donegal, Ireland, to downtown Durham’s Motorco Music Hall. Their own experiences in pubs inform “Where did it go so right?,” the work they will perform here and performed at Donegal’s Earagail Arts Festival, artistic director Leonie McDonagh said in a phone interview Tuesday. The four-member cast -- McDonagh, Paula O’Reilly, Duane Walters and Neill Hainsworth -- arrived in Durham Monday.

This is the original cast that first performed the 2009 work, she added.

The show will be at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. today through Sunday.

After the interview, McDonagh said, they were going over to check out the space they would be using at Motorco. They like the challenge of making the most of the space they’re in, she said.

When they first performed this dance, they chose a pub out of necessity because they couldn’t afford theater space and the owner let them use it for free, she said. 

These days, they do get funding from Cultural Ireland for international gigs that include ADF as well as their U.S. debut in New York this past March and their New Zealand engagement in August, the artistic director said.

They’re also keen on performing at other spaces such as a pub as a way of drawing an audience. “Sometimes, they’re not willing to take a risk for a theater show,” McDonagh said. “But they have no problem going to a bar and buying pints of beer.”

While Motorco has hosted a variety of community shows by non-profits, this is the venue’s first ADF show.

In Donegal, ponydance performed the work in a parish hall and community center as well as the pub. Another dance, “Ormeau,” took place in Belfast shops and on the street, McDonagh said.

When ADF director Jodee Nimerichter saw “Where did it all go right?” at a hotel bar in Adelaide, Australia, as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2012, she had so much fun she wanted to recreate the experience for dance audiences here, she has said.

This marks the first time in its 80-year history that an American Dance Festival performance has been in a bar.

The work has a narrative thread: A couple comes to a bar and then another woman makes a play for the man. McDonagh and O’Reilly play the women and Hainsworth is the man. The fourth cast member, Walters, plays a bored bar tender; he’s actually controlling the sound for a score that includes Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual.”

There’s also lots of humor in this show. Company members must have comedic talent as well as strong dance training, McDonagh said. She attended London Contemporary Dance School and has always had a comedic bent. “I’m just always looking for laughs,” she said.

Dancers receive regular clown training, she added.

In creating a work, they look for what makes them laugh. But they’re also open to funny moments that come from playing off an audience, she said.

And, a lively, engaged audience really fuels their own energy, McDonagh added. “Hearing an audience laugh – it’s really an addictive thing,” she said.

The fact that all 10 shows here are almost sold out also has them pumped. “It makes us feel like rock stars,” she said.

Performers encourage audience participation. There’s also some partial nudity.

“We have a lot of surprises in the show,” she said.