Physical theatre company Legs on the Wall brings to the Sydney Opera House—as part of the Sydney Festival—Man With The Iron Neck, which speaks a tale that shines a bright light on the theme of suicide in Indigenous Australian communities. 

Written by emerging writer Ursula Yovich and co-directed by Gavin Robins, the story tells the tale of a young man Ash losing his best friend Bear to suicide. He becomes obsessed with early 20th-century stunt man The Great Peters, famously known as the ‘Man With The Iron Neck’ where his most recognised stunt saw him jump off bridges with a rope tied around his neck —and survived.  

The aerialist component in this production adds a symbolic tone to the storyline. Dancers fly around the theatre in a contemporary ballet style that is both poetic and graceful. Man With The Iron Neck combines physical theatre, video design and text to help illustrate the tale. 

Cast dancer and NAISDA graduate Kyle Shilling has a strong and personal connection to Man With The Iron Neck. He believes the production can be healing to those who have negative thoughts about their own wellbeing. 

“Having such a high suicide rate in our culture is something that we want to change. I’ve grown up with a mother who suffered from depression her whole life but also my younger brother has attempted to end his life three times,” Kyle admitted.

Man With The Iron Neck has definitely helped my younger brother as it showed him what his life could have been like if his attempts were successful —and now, he has turned his life around for the better.”

“There is definitely a positive message in this production — I see nothing negative in showcasing the theme of suicide; it is something that needs to be seen by the world,” he added.

For Kyle too, prior to his journey at NAISDA, saw him in serious trouble with the law. Upon discovering his acceptance into NAISDA, Police offered him a disciplining punishment— dance. He attended NAISDA with an initial dislike for dance, until he connected strongly with contemporary dance in his second year of training and found new avenues to express himself. Four years later, he graduated as one of the leading dancers in his class and entered the professional dance industry with Bangarra Dance Company. Dance not only saved his life, but it gave him something to live for. 

“NAISDA was really a saviour for me,” Kyle told Dance Writer. 

Man With The Iron Neck. Credit Brett Boardman
Man With The Iron Neck. Credit Brett Boardman

Female cast member and another NAISDA graduate Caleena Sansbury is an experienced dancer who is leading the charge in the Indigenous Australian arts communities. She collaborates and performs alongside new dance company ‘Karul Projects’ that aims to revolutionise and expand the currently limited amount of opportunities available for Indigenous dancers in the Australian industry. 

“If the opportunity is not there, you have to create it!” Caleena smiles. 

Her connection to the theme of suicide is also prevalent and she hopes for viewers who come see Man With The Iron Neck act for themselves in a positive way. 

“It has impacted on my life quite heavily because I know people close to me who have committed suicide. Indigenous people of Australia are the leading suicide rates in the world — that is alarming,” she said. 

“Come and watch the show, it is such an emotional one but it is a story that needs to be told. I hope our younger generation of Indigenous people come and see this and understand that there are other options out there.” 

Man With The Iron Neck is on at Sydney Opera House from January 23-26. Tickets available here. 

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