The high-flying circus firm for pop and rock stars

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  • 11 Might 2020
Muse performing in front of Cirque Bijou's Charles the Robot Image copyright Hans Peter Van Velthoven
Picture caption Cirque Bijou made an enormous robot for rock band Muse

The BBC's weekly The Boss collection profiles totally different business leaders from around the globe. This week we converse to Billy Alwen and Julian Bracey, founders of UK circus efficiency enterprise Cirque Bijou.

Many of us dream of quitting our nine-to-five jobs, to, as the saying goes, "run away and be a part of the circus".

Billy Alwen did simply that - literally - when he give up a fledgling profession in politics in 1992, aged 25, to turn into a full-time circus performer.

A couple of years later, in 1999, he arrange Bristol-based Cirque Bijou together with his good friend Julian Bracey.

Image copyright Farrows Artistic
Image caption Julian (left) and Billy have been operating the enterprise for 21 years

Over the past 20 years their enterprise has designed and carried out giant open-air spectacles at cultural occasions all over the world, from Glastonbury Pageant, to Olympic Games, to New Yr celebrations within the Far East.

At the similar time, its employees go on tour with singers and bands comparable to Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and Muse, to deliver their performances alive with hearth performers, tight-rope walkers, and even big robots.

Londoner Billy had been all set for a life in politics. After getting a level in international relations from Staffordshire University, he spent three years working as a political researcher within the House of Commons.

However in his spare time he had started training as a trapeze artist, and in 1992 he walked away from the day job to grow to be a full-time skilled circus performer.

"I knew my heart lay in performing," says Billy, now 53.

He began to get work with circuses, and carried out at personal parties and festivals.

Image copyright Kevin Mazur
Picture caption Cirque Bijou dancers performed with Taylor Swift on the 2012 MTV Awards

Meanwhile, Julian Bracey, who's from Bristol, studied design at university within the 1990s. He had gained a scholarship to enrol on a prestigious course on the College of Montreal.

On the streets of the Canadian city he says he was exposed to a variety of circus and road performance.

"I might see individuals busking in a market, and assume, 'I can do this,'" says Julian, 50. So he ditched his plans for a career in design.

"I ended up road performing all around the globe, as a fireplace performer, acrobat, unicyclist and juggler.

"Then I joined a French circus, working as a compere. I wasn't fluent in some other languages, however I learnt the whole show in French, and even Spanish."

Image copyright Cirque Bijou
Image caption The business uses a staff of 200 performers

Returning to the UK, Julian joined a Bristol-based circus group, where Billy was by then working.

Once they decided to go into enterprise together that they had no money to take a position aside from what they have been continuing to earn from ad-hoc performance work.

To maintain costs down they made do with a couple of computer systems, and based mostly themselves in Julian's father's basement.

Billy says they decided to remain in Bristol because "it has a thriving arts scene, and is a renowned centre for circus within the UK".

But why the French identify, which interprets as "Elegant Circus"? Julian explains: "On the time, being an English circus wasn't that cool, so we thought we should always give ourselves a French identify, therefore Cirque Bijou."

Image copyright Cirque Bijou
Picture caption The corporate's staff typically want a head for heights

The business then grew steadily through the years, because of word of mouth, and Julian's wonderful contacts. "I had slightly black ebook, and I knew a lot of individuals, as I had travelled quite a bit," he says.

"I used to be fairly protective of our contacts. That is modified now due to social media, it is now more inclusive. Now you can see somebody on TV, Google their identify, and say, 'Hey, do you need to be in our present?'"

Extra The Boss features:

As the corporate grew, Billy and Julian both shortly gave up performing themselves, to as an alternative give attention to the production work.

Through the years they've produced spectacles such because the annual Taiwan Lantern Pageant, a world exhibition in Kazakhstan, and the opening ceremonies for the crusing events on the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in the UK.

The show for the Paralympics involved 64 disabled and non-disabled performers. Billy was so inspired by the experience that he shaped a aspect company referred to as Extraordinary Our bodies, the place disabled and non-disabled artists can work equally together.

"It is one thing I am extremely pleased with." he says. "Also, in the event you change who you see on stage it modifications who the audience are."

If you add Cirque Bijou's work with music artists, and the corporate is usually concerned in more than 100 exhibits all over the world annually. To satisfy all its commitments, the enterprise depends on a pool of about 200 freelance performers.

Image copyright Jake Hancock
Image caption The opening ceremony for the crusing occasions on the London 2012 Olympics

Provided that these women and men are sometimes enjoying with hearth, or walking tightropes, health and security is an enormous factor.

One yr they worked with Katy Perry at an awards present, the place she needed Catherine wheels hooked up to the backpacks of all her dancers.

"We strapped the fireworks to their backs, and we might accounted for all of the well being and safety hazards," says Julian. "However then this guy from Sony got here up to us, and stated, 'You realise that there's this invisible video display behind you? It's value £300,000, and in case you burn it you're in hassle!'

"That was slightly scary, however in over 20 years we've never had any accidents, which is superb."

Picture copyright Rob Harris
Image caption Cirque Bijou works with disabled performers, by way of a aspect challenge referred to as Extraordinary Bodies

Sometimes, Billy and Julian spend a lot of time travelling around the globe for work, which each admit can take a toll on their private lives.

Julian says it was notably robust when he spent 5 months on tour with Muse when his daughter was born. Presently though, all is on maintain because of the coronavirus lockdown.

"We've got had round 20 events cancelled or postponed," says Julian. "The summer time season for stay occasions is effectively cancelled."

The corporate is using the downtime to develop new exhibits as an alternative.

Ade Berry, inventive director at London arts and cultural venue Jacksons Lane, says Cirque Bijou has "paved the best way" for circus performance in the UK.

"It is redefining circus, and pushing organisations like us to attempt to obtain more, and rethink the whole lot we all know," says Mr Berry. He adds that Cirque Bijou's persevering with work with disabled individuals by way of Extraordinary Our bodies is particularly inspiring.

As to the future of Cirque Bijou, Billy and Julian see it carrying on for no less than another 20 years. It does sound more enjoyable than a typical nine-to-five job.