Can modern dance be hilarious, sexy, quirky, athletic, somewhat naughty and somewhat scary, all in one 50-minute performance? It can if it’s the Irish dance troupe ponydance – the lowercase, run-on spelling just another cheeky aspect of this wildly entertaining company.
Here as part of the American Dance Festival’s “Offstage” series, which schedules performances in nontraditional spaces from museums to garden ponds, ponydance is presenting its popular 2009 piece “Where Did It All Go Right?” in Durham bar and performance space Motorco Music Hall.
The piece was conceived for the confines of a pub, the audience arrayed in chairs, with just enough space in front of the bar to accommodate four dancers impersonating various customers one might observe on any given night.
Thus we get a shy guy (Neil Hainsworth) who catches the eye of a flirty blonde (Leonie McDonagh), soon dancing intimately to thumping pop music. The movements are awkward and loose, with sudden close encounters and then a hormone-fueled grappling. Clothes fly off until the two realize where they are, grab their duds and rush off.
Then, a short, full-figured young woman (Paula O’Reilly) begins dancing by herself, eager for attention. The earlier couple returns and an escalating competition between the women results in a hysterical, rolling-on-the-floor wrestling match.
There’s also a segment where the performers seek out audience members to sit on, to dance with and even (for one lucky guy each performance) to encourage a hands-on exploration of the blonde’s body.
Last-call drunken huddling, country and western line dancing and even a surprise turn by the low-key bartender/sound technician (Duane Watters) are further examples of unexpected scenarios.
Watching the dancing so close up is exhilarating, the spinning, jumping and acrobatic partnering within arm’s reach (intimidatingly so for those on the front row). The dancers are superb comedians as well, their expressions and dialogue sassy but endearing.
The performance is recommended for those who may feel uncomfortable in a formal theater setting, but it’s also great fun for the experienced dance fan.
Because of limited seating (only 60) and positive word-of-mouth reviews, some performances are already sold out.
Judging from the vociferous response to Wednesday’s opening, the festival should already be planning the company’s return next year for an extended run.