Birds have always inspired humanity’s imagination in mythology, religion and folklore. They experience the world on a different plane to us and see everything from a top-down perspective. The Czech dance group Lenka Vagnerová & Company offer an insight into this mysterious world of birds with their production, Riders, which has come to the Zoo Southside venue as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Ladislav Cmorej and Andrea Opavska © Viktor Kronbauer
Ladislav Cmorej and Andrea Opavska
© Viktor Kronbauer

The most obvious distinction between the bird world and the human world is that the former takes place in the air. Riders establishes this difference before the audience have even taken their seats. As we filed into the auditorium, the dancers onstage looked down at us, with pleasingly birdlike head-movements and staring eyes, from the posts they perched on. The sense of flight was then emphasised in the scene which followed, as three birds tag-teamed to take down some kind of rodent. The dancers seamlessly transferred from running into somersaults and back to running as they circled their prey and the giant three-man hawk they created with their bodies was truly spectacular.

Some of the couple numbers were very beautiful. Again, the choreographer utilised the fact that birds travel in all three dimensions to her advantage. The dancers did not keep to one level; often they were rolling on the floor or being lifted into the air. All of their movements flowed into each other and I particularly enjoyed the section where five dancers were involved in the partner work. The extra dancer meant that they switched partners frequently, which was very entertaining to watch.

In the baby bird number, it was easy to sympathise with the parent trying to feed his demanding offspring. They swayed and made “ack” sounds with their opened mouths pointed upwards for the careworn parent bird to drop food into. The parent’s exasperation was humorously exaggerated, making for a fun scene as the babies’ cries got louder and the parent got more agitated. I was not sure whether the parent’s distraught bawling at the end of the number was due to his children starving to death or having left the nest!

Lenka Vagnerová & Company 's <i>Riders</i> © Viktor Kronbauer
Lenka Vagnerová & Company 's Riders
© Viktor Kronbauer

In fact, several times I was left wondering about the choreographer’s intentions. What was the meaning behind the man with all of the food in his mouth? Was the couple that was struggling to carry too many paper tubes meant to be building a nest? And why was there a woman in a duffle coat doing an elaborate mime of drinking a cup of hot chocolate?

That is not to say that the woman in the duffle coat wasn’t very funny – she was. Her unimpressed resignation as the three male dancers argued over her was amusing. And when she pulled her knees under the duffle coat and disco danced to Crazy by Gnarls Barkley in sparkly heels, the audience was in stitches. But the hot chocolate section simply made no sense to me – it might have been clearer to an ornithologist.

For me, the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Tereza Voříšková’s captivating harpy sequence. Supported by two other dancers holding only her legs, Voříšková was perched upright, balancing on her supporting dancers’ hips. She literally rode her companions as they raced around the stage chasing a mortal who reeled under her spell. It was very easy to imagine she was actually gliding in midair after her victim and the whole number was simply magnificent.

I really liked the way the performers’ personalities shone through in every section of the evening: from the dancing onstage, to the quirky notes in the programme, to the fun they had with the chalk name slates during the bows. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, occasionally confusing but always entertaining, Riders certainly makes for an enjoyable evening out and is definitely worth catching if you can make it to the Fringe this year.