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Three Sisters


Pappa Tarahumara


Stephanie Burridge






Esplanade Theatre Studio



Twisted Sisters

"Sweetly controlled, dismembered chaos" is how I would describe Three Sisters performed by the Japanese dance theatre company Pappa Tarahumara. The sisters sing, shriek, laugh and move through an intertwined narrative that propels the audience through various episodes in their lives. Set in the Japanese countryside in the 1960s, the three sisters career through life engulfing time and space in rapid scenes that leave little time for reflection and pathos.

The work is based on the Chekhov play, The Three Sisters, first staged in 1901, about three fatherless sisters living the Russian countryside. They are cultured and ambitious with dreams of a glorious, fulfilling life in Moscow, yet they are doomed to boredom, fantasy and frustration as they live out their lives in provincial tedium. In this version, the original Chekhov play has been condensed into a 60-minute whirlwind full of wit, humour and surprise that swings between the highs and lows of young women coming to terms with beauty, aging and disappointment.

The dance theatre piece (directed by Hiroshi Koike) begins in a child's world where there are toys, games and sisterly bitching about clothes, looks and possessions. The scenes are confined to the area of the stage that is marked out in white tape. This simple device creates the claustrophobic confines of the room where they live, a metaphor for everything that restricts their lives. The toys remain around the perimeter unless directly involved in a scene and only the three dancers and three chairs occupy the space. A male doll is placed at the back of the stage and it watches them throughout - at the end he is included in the dance and possibly refers to the character of the weak-willed brother Andrei from the original play.

What these dancers achieve within this area is a testimony to the best of highly original and energetic dance choreography. They thump through unison, rock inspired, percussive movements; strike sudden poses after frenetic dancing; and manoeuvre acrobatically through the space. It is complex, disciplined and precise choreography. Performers Sachiko Shirai, Makie Sekiguchi and Mao Arata capture the essence of their roles and the audience's hearts with their energy and lust for life.

The movement combines falls, high leg kicks and gestures drawn from everyday domestic tasks. For example, a scene about cooking involves a rapid succession of gestures based on chopping, slashing and peeling. In another scene, the sisters strip down to sexy nightclub outfits of ripped lycra denoting the decadence of an imagined life in the big city. They stuff their socks up their bras and gyrate sexily; each picks up a light bulb on a long chord and swirls them in circles creating a surreal effect. This is one of many hilarious moments where they sing and cavort in a self-deprecating manner.

The three dancers also use their varying body sizes dramatically to create the characters. For instance, Arata as the older sister uses her long limbs to show an awkward, gangly young woman while the smaller youngest sister (Sekiguchi) is a cheeky, explosive performer

It is rare to find choreography that incorporates facial expression as part of the choreography. Here, the dancers poke out their tongues, twist their mouths and smirk cheekily, contributing to the comedy and the characterisation for each sister. Every moment counts in this comic/tragic production that has obviously developed from intense experimentation and exacting rehearsals - nothing has been left to chance. It is the tightness of each aspect that really fleshes out the characters and creates the feeling of the trapped, claustrophobic world they occupy. In the final scene there is a sense of doom, tiredness and pessimism as they sink to the floor, resigned to their situation where they will never escape from their provincial life.

Interestingly, without the programme notes, the audience would not know that the piece is set in the Japanese countryside in the 1960s as, apart from the Japanese performers, the staging and adaptation of the script does not contextualize the work so specifically. Pappa Tarahumara is investigating the essence of the three sisters' characters in a universal study of young women growing up in a restricting world - one which is danced superbly and is extraordinarily engaging and entertaining.

"The original Chekhov play has been condensed into a 60-minute whirlwind full of wit, humour and surprise that swings between the highs and lows of young women coming to terms with beauty, aging and disappointment. "


Text, Choreography, Direction: Hiroshi Koike

Music: Junichi Matsumoto

Props: Yuriko Yamaguchi

Costumes: Misuzu Kubozono

Performers: Sachiko Shirai, Makie Sekiguchi and Mao Arata

More Reviews by
Stephanie Burridge


Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.