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A Faint Existence★★★★★Two Jews Walk Into A Theatre★★★Sydney Opera House, May 10

These are two of the four short works that make up UnWrapped, a new series presented by the Sydney Opera House to showcase contemporary works at reasonable prices, running until May 13.

Kristina Chan performing her compelling work, A Faint Existence.

Photo: Daniel Boud

A Faint Existence, choreographed and performed by Kristina Chan, is an engrossing dance solo that first appeared in 2016. It is well worth repeated showings, so powerful is its blend of dance, design (Clare Britton, with lighting by Benjamin Cisterne) and music (James Brown).

The scenario is grim. Its simple staging is a disc-like the Earth viewed from space with a band of highly lit fabric above it, agitating at key points. A rumbling soundscape, punctured initially by what could be explosions, deepens the threatening environmental atmospherics.

Chan is an elegant mover and she has devised organic body shapes that are contorted yet delicately graceful as well as strong. At first she appears to be fighting destructive forces; later she seems to be tossed around by them.

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There is a long sequence of stillness and another of repeated actions that could detract in a lesser production, but A Faint Existence is so tightly held and direct that they meld into the tapestry of the global concept. Depressingly, Chan ends by walking slowly backwards – even more telling now than it was two years ago.

Two Jews Walk Into a Theatre … teams actor Brian Lipson with dancer and choreographer Gideon Obarzanek presenting a conversation between their fathers, who never met.

It's an amusing idea that is built on unscripted exchanges cued from notes spread on the stage in front of them and a conversational tone so realistic I was glad to be sitting close.

Having launched the show in Melbourne, the performers gave it a new Sydney prologue that bogged down the start in banalities, though these elicited some laughter so they presumably worked for others.

The main discussions – at times arguments – between the two are obviously well rehearsed and more interesting. Entertaining, too, when the two "fathers" exchange sympathetic views on their "sons" who turned to acting and dance, offering parodies of these contemporary art forms.

When it comes to politics, however, they disagree: two Jews of different ages do not necessarily have the same ideas about Israel.

Finally, they stop talking and start moving in slow dance phrases, choreographed by the director of the piece, Lucy Guerin. This is good for Obarzanek and tough on Lipson, but doesn't detract from the best qualities of the event as a whole.

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