Sunday, 03 July, 2022

The high-flying circus firm for pop and rock stars

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Hans Peter Van Velthoven

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Cirque Bijou designed a huge robot for rock band Muse

The BBC’s weekly The Manager series profiles various organization leaders from all over the entire world. This week we speak to Billy Alwen and Julian Bracey, founders of British isles circus overall performance organization Cirque Bijou.

Several of us desire of quitting our 9-to-five jobs, to, as the saying goes, “operate away and sign up for the circus”.

Billy Alwen did just that – practically – when he give up a fledgling job in politics in 1992, aged 25, to come to be a complete-time circus performer.

A number of decades afterwards, in 1999, he established up Bristol-primarily based Cirque Bijou with his good friend Julian Bracey.

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Farrows Artistic

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Julian (still left) and Billy have been operating the business for 21 several years

About the past two a long time their enterprise has designed and done massive open-air spectacles at cultural activities all-around the environment, from Glastonbury Competition, to Olympic Games, to New Calendar year celebrations in the Significantly East.

At the similar time, its personnel go on tour with singers and bands such as Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Muse, to provide their performances alive with fire performers, tight-rope walkers, and even big robots.

Londoner Billy experienced been all set for a daily life in politics. Just after having a degree in intercontinental relations from the College of Staffordshire, he used 3 yrs functioning as a political researcher in the Household of Commons.

But in his spare time he experienced started out coaching as a trapeze artist, and in 1992 he walked absent from the day work to develop into a comprehensive-time skilled circus performer.

“I knew my coronary heart lay in doing,” says Billy, now 53.

He started off to get do the job with circuses, and carried out at private parties and festivals.

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Kevin Mazur

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Cirque Bijou dancers executed with Taylor Swift at the 2012 MTV Awards

Meanwhile, Julian Bracey, who is from Bristol, analyzed structure at university in the 1990s. He experienced received a scholarship to enrol on a prestigious study course at the University of Montreal.

On the streets of the Canadian town he says he was exposed to a ton of circus and street efficiency.

“I would see individuals busking in a market place, and consider, ‘I can do that,'” states Julian, 50. So he ditched his designs for a job in design and style.

“I ended up avenue undertaking all all-around the world, as a fireplace performer, acrobat, unicyclist and juggler.

“Then I joined a French circus, doing the job as a compere. I was not fluent in any other languages, but I learnt the whole show in French, and even Spanish.”

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Cirque Bijou

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The small business takes advantage of a group of 200 performers

Returning to the British isles, Julian joined a Bristol-dependent circus team, exactly where Billy was by then operating.

When they made the decision to go into small business alongside one another they had no revenue to spend other than what they were being continuing to earn from advertisement-hoc general performance get the job done.

To preserve prices down they built do with a couple of computers, and primarily based on their own in Julian’s father’s basement.

Billy states they decided to remain in Bristol because “it has a flourishing arts scene, and is a renowned centre for circus in the Uk”.

But why the French name, which interprets as “Exquisite Circus”? Julian explains: “At the time, staying an English circus was not that cool, so we considered we need to give ourselves a French title, as a result Cirque Bijou.”

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Cirque Bijou

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The firm’s workers usually need to have a head for heights

The company then grew steadily about the years, thanks to phrase of mouth, and Julian’s superb contacts. “I had a little black ebook, and I realized plenty of men and women, as I had travelled a great deal,” he says.

“I was rather protective of our contacts. That is modified now for the reason that of social media, it’s now a lot more inclusive. You can now see somebody on Television, Google their title, and say, ‘Hey, do you want to be in our display?'”

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As the enterprise grew, Billy and Julian both equally promptly gave up executing themselves, to in its place emphasis on the generation get the job done.

Above the yrs they have generated spectacles these as the yearly Taiwan Lantern Festival, an international exhibition in Kazakhstan, and the opening ceremonies for the sailing gatherings at the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in the United kingdom.

The clearly show for the Paralympics associated 64 disabled and non-disabled performers.

Add their perform with new music artists, and the firm is usually associated in a lot more than 100 reveals close to the earth each and every 12 months. To meet all its commitments, the organization depends on a pool of about 200 freelance performers.

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Jake Hancock

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The opening ceremony for the sailing gatherings at the London 2012 Olympics

Given that these males and ladies are frequently playing with fire, or walking tightropes, wellness and basic safety is a major aspect.

Just one calendar year they labored with Katy Perry at an awards display, where she wished Catherine wheels attached to the backpacks of all her dancers.

“We strapped the fireworks to their backs, and we might accounted for all the overall health and protection hazards,” suggests Julian. “But then this male from Sony came up to us, and mentioned, ‘You realise that there’s this invisible video display driving you? It’s really worth £300,000, and if you burn up it you are in problems!’

“That was marginally terrifying, but in about 20 many years we have under no circumstances experienced any accidents, which is remarkable.”

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Rob Harris

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Cirque Bijou is effective with disabled performers, via a aspect job referred to as Remarkable Bodies

Usually, Billy and Julian devote lots of time travelling close to the earth for operate, which the two acknowledge can consider a toll on their particular lives.

Julian suggests it was notably hard when he put in five months on tour with Muse when his daughter was born. Presently even though, all is on maintain because of to the coronavirus lockdown.

“We have experienced about 20 activities cancelled or postponed,” claims Julian. “The summer months period for live gatherings is efficiently cancelled.”

The business is using the downtime to acquire new reveals instead.

Ade Berry, inventive director at London arts and cultural venue Jacksons Lane, says Cirque Bijou has “paved the way” for circus effectiveness in the Uk.

“It can be redefining circus, and pushing organisations like us to check out to reach a lot more, and rethink anything we know,” claims Mr Berry. He provides that Cirque Bijou’s continuing work with disabled people today, by using its side task Remarkable Bodies is notably inspiring.

As to the foreseeable future of Cirque Bijou, Billy and Julian see it carrying on for at minimum a different 20 a long time. It does audio a lot more exciting than a common nine-to-5 career.

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