DANCE: 3 Sisters The Place, London

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The Independent Culture
All in all, Chekhov's three sisters would rather be in Moscow. Pretty, accomplished and over-educated, they slowly suffocate in an unstimulating small town, their only amusements provided by the military men who flock to their little parties. Their collective Moscow fixation is a symbol of their failure to grasp a basic piece of Tolstoyan wisdom which spoke of "the eternal error men make in imagining happiness to consist in the fulfilment of their desires". Happiness is a state that exists independent of circumstances.

Aletta Collins's 3 Sisters opens with three forbidding-looking young women standing stage front behind a low-slung clothes line. They fold their arms across it and gaze premenstrually out at us then hitchhike in unison in an unsuccessful attempt to escape, a little routine that punctuates each "act" of this allusive narrative. The wires run across Tom Cairns's sparsely furnished set which also contains three chairs, a tree, a window, three Russian dolls and a luminous table. The soundtrack is a similar mix of scene-setting and jokes and combines Sister Sledge ("We Are Family"), Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, snatches of Chekhov dialogue and a teach-yourself-Russian tape. Dan O'Neill dances Vershinin, Collins herself dances Masha, the unfaithful wife, Bernadette Iglich is Olga and Rachel Krische is little Irena, a vision in heavy hornrims.

There is presumably a reason for lumbering three actually rather pretty women with such hideous frocks and clashing cardigans - they would not look out of place in the queue for beetroot in downtown Novosibirsk. The trouble with Collins's wilful uglification of the sisters and their exchanges is that, once deprived of their cultivated Muscovite ennui, they become three very dreary cows indeed and run the risk of forfeiting all interest and sympathy.

Iglich, dancing the eldest sister Olga, demonstrates her misery with a melancholy solo dominated by finely balanced arching and dipping movements until a sudden flicker runs across her shoulders causing her body to change pace and direction with a twitch of vexation. Collins's trademark is her ability to use small gestures to great effect and she continues to exploit that gift in 3 Sisters but with more restraint - some of her earlier work could almost have been done sitting down. The flatfooted, stop-go choreography which was devised collectively by the company, is as earthbound as the sisters themselves, refusing to glorify their discontented dreams with any lightness or leaping. This makes for an intelligent, if unforgiving reading of the play and a slightly dour hour. "We aren't happy and we can't be happy. We only long for happiness." Quite.