Ponies Don't Play Football
Pony Dance twerk The MAC audience into hysterics with their latest comedy production
The MAC stage is littered with the trappings of a rock gig: amps hum gently, bass guitars lie propped up against them and bras hang from microphone stands, like an Aerosmith gig if Steven Tyler were honest about what he really wanted to wipe his face with.
A couple turn up with a baby in a papoose. The entire crowd is young and attractive and palpably up for some fun. Except me, of course. I feel like a living, breathing middle-aged spread melting into the velour of the flip down chairs. Ponydance, Belfast's leading exponents of terpsichorean tomfoolery, are back.
A band file on stage in uniformly low key outfits and start playing a surprisingly convincing version of Patti Smith's 'Horses'. It's Belfast's very own Uncle Social providing live accompaniment throughout the show. Though 'accompaniment' isn't quite the word for a performance as integrated as this.
The ponies themselves emerge, solemn and cowled like cloistered monks, until they start twerking like lunatics – buttocks thrusting toward the audience – or draping themselves over the stoical band, who are gamely working through Bloodhound Gang's 'The Bad Touch'. The drummer doesn't miss a stroke, which is frankly remarkable.
With the writhing momentarily finished, lead pony Leonie McDonagh addresses her audience (while requesting the front row help her remove masking tape from her nipples). 'Did anybody get aroused during that performance?' she asks. The band meekly raise their hands. 'Good,' says McDonagh, oblivious. 'I'm glad we're not playing for a bunch of perverts.'
This is what Ponydance do (they certainly don't play football). Self identifying as 'comedy dance theatre' they are exactly that, to the detriment of none of those disciplines. They seem to break every rule: the fourth wall, for example, is repeatedly smashed to smithereens.
Ponydance are more inclusive than immersive, the audience not mere spectators but part of the show, there to be confronted, to throw soft toys as a sort of furry blizzard at a woman who has been dressed upside down in a snow suit. The whole thing reminds me of a comedy version of David Bowie's Glass Spider tour, a sort of 'Ha ha ha Human Steps'.
The delivery of the performance is repeatedly brought to a stand-still by the hunched expressions of gratitude from the trumpeter. This shouldn't work either – the transition between individual pieces should be smooth and flowing – but it does. This is dance that works like comedy – the audience's anticipation of his anguished monotone as much a part of the show as the set-pieces.
When, during a particularly lengthy scene switch-over, he attempts to read his thesis – 'Miles Davis and the transition from Bebop to Cool Jazz' – the comedy trolley trundles all the way back to the 1920s and Robert Benchley's 'The Treasurer's Report'.
The ponies manhandle singer Donal Scullion while dressed in little black outfits, so it looks like Robert Palmer's backing band is exacting a timely revenge, and one is forced to marvel at their strength and dexterity (and Scullion's ability to hold a tune upside down).
This, after all, is their real secret: Ponydance look as though they are en pointe in clown shoes. They appear to be mucking about, making it up as they go along, but everything is tightly choreographed, each piece of haphazard spontaneity relentlessly practiced until it appears blithe, easy.
Their core strength is their informal relationship with the audience. They look as if they're having fun, so, by extension, the audience has fun. This is what great comedy does and it's impossible to fake. Ponydance are the real deal.
Visit The MAC website for information on forthcoming events.