Ponydance- Clown? Dance? Or beyond? This essay got lost, but now it’s found.

By Ira Seidenstein

February 6, 2020

Clown Phenomenon – Pony Dance
To my understanding ‘clown’ is like the archetypal ‘fool’ as per the tarot card – an independent wanderer about to step from a precipice into an abyss called home. When you see Pony Dance whether in a theatre, street or club it is, as if, you’ve been welcomed home after a long journey lost in a cynical world.  They are a joy to see while they challenge our preconceptions about dance, clown, acting, theatre and being ‘modern’. 
Again Pony Dance has proved here in Edinburgh that they are pioneering a hybrid form that transcends clown, dance, and theatre. The key ingredient is the director/choreographer/dancer Leonie McDonagh from near Carrick-on-Shannon cum Belfast. The current show is the third that I have seen from Pony Dance and if you ever wondered who took facial expression away from dancers – Pony Dance has put it back. If you ever wondered who are the culprit clown ‘teachers’ that insist clowns just stand still – do nothing – stop their bodies from actual play….. Pony Dance has returned clowning to a full total embodiment. Their embodied way is not just physical it is also intellectual. Many professional clowns are deeply skilled in clown craft, just as many are not actually funny even though as craftsmen they know how to ‘get laughs’. The Pony Dance performers are all funny, genuinely, authentically. The audience roars, cheers and falls earnestly in love with them. Yet the Ponies are pushing the envelope on many levels. They are profoundly Beckettian in that they explore waiting and longing like Vladimir and Estragon with ADHD. They use anything and any way they feel like it. 
They work very hard in the studio and so far all of their shows demand 100% attention and driven vitality from each performer. The audience loves seeing them work hard and loves seeing them play hard.
Their shows all have a direct audience communication as in clown, commedia, and stand-up comedy. Many of their shows have a spanner-in-the-works or wild card in that some of the shows either have the actors amongst the audience or some of the audience amongst the actors. Very hands on stuff. 
Their show “Where Did It All Go Right” (Winner of Best of Fringe – Dance Award 2012 – Adelaide) definitely was a hands-on each night by at least one lucky audience member. That show and their current “Anybody Waitin’?” in Edinburgh’s Silk nightclub (Edinburgh 2012) are site-specific i.e. made to be performed in either a bar, pub, or nightclub. Other shows of theirs are stage/theatre shows. But they also have rocked it on the street and in Womade (Adelaide) they were a hit also on the street. They’ve won various awards, grants, commissions since we first started working together – me as their mentor (officially since 2009 unofficially since 2008).
There have been eight dancers since I have known them and all have outstanding qualities personally and professionally and intellectually. On stage they have all mastered dumber than dumb yet the overall act is extremely stimulating intellectually. Somehow through all their shenanagins  and kitsch veneer they challenge the way the audience thinks about what they are seeing so that the audience clearly becomes involved mind-to-mind with the quick wit and antics of Pony Dance.
Leonie is 100% the driving force yet she is a young master of collaboration on fire. Each of the dancers is a true equal participant in her company. Paula O’Reilly is 100% the muse. She is a queen of funny for sure. She has the stage presence of a divine wicked clownesse. Paula and Leonie bounce ideas and forces both in the office, studio, onstage and as required in schmoozing and having a ball at the festivals. Paula is also very much an Auntie to Leonie’s young son.
Yet, at the same time, each of the dancers (Duane and Ryan in Edinburgh, as well as Deirdre of the recent and next Australian tours, and earlier dancers Neil, Carl, Oona) are given space to be a creative partner with Leonie and is driven by Leonie to go further. To go all the way your own way – may be the catch phrase of this company.  
Leonie McDonagh has something to say and has chosen her own iconoclast path that is a humorous poignant, touching, and kinetic deconstruction of post-modernism. Her soul is both deeply ancient Celt, Irish, and drastically modern. Something in her is aligned with the Irish theatre action towards independence as were Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett. Their movement is our movement, that is, actively learning to cast off ones intellectual shackles and fighting to offer something better. 
Pony Dance release an essence of a pure, spiritual creative fire and Leonie’s work allows that energy to emerge uniquely from each performer in her company.
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