Extraordinary Bodies is the UK’s leading, professional, integrated circus company. We create bold, radical and joyous large scale performance. Our leading artistic practice increases national awareness of the integration of D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled artists working equally together.
We make work with, for and about our communities; work that represents the diverse makeup of our society – onstage, offstage and in the audience.
We are a strong and unlikely partnership between leading showmakers Cirque Bijou and leading arts and diversity practitioners Diverse City. Our partnership breaks boundaries and our work does too.
Extraordinary Bodies is a company of artistic activators and activists. It is a collaboration between colleagues from Cirque Bijou and Diverse City, and an exciting array of creative minds, artists, theatre practitioners, musicians, writers and crew. Click on the people below to find out more.
Billy Alwen is co-founder and Artistic Director of Cirque Bijou, an experienced creator of outdoor spectacle, circus and street theatre since 1999. He started his circus life as an aerialist, performing all over the world, in tents in fields, parks and city centres, forming Cirque Bijou in 1999 with Julian Bracey. Since then Cirque Bijou have made thousands of shows across the globe for audiences of 50 to 50,000. In 2012 they made Battle for the Winds to launch the London 2012 Olympic Sailing events in Weymouth. It was a true epic, with 52 shows in 7 UK counties – with thousands of artists and hundreds of thousands of audience members. Significantly it bought Cirque Bijou into partnership with Diverse City. A year later the first Extraordinary Bodies show, Weighting, was made in only 10 days, with an exceptional company of disabled and non-disabled artists. Since that first commission in 2013 Extraordinary Bodies has grown and developed into a national and international circus project, working with the National Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, and Circus Oz in Melbourne.
“It is very rare as an artist that you get an opportunity to reinvent an art form, but that is what I feel I am doing with Claire and Jamie. We are not only making a fundamental change to circus, we are making impact that goes beyond art, placing on stage the positive inclusive world we want to see in society.
The best circus crosses so many art forms. It tells stories to people of all ages and backgrounds and it can surprise, shock and make you cry all at once. That is the kind of circus I aspire to make with Extraordinary Bodies.”
Claire Hodgson is a theatre/dance director and artist. Claire is founder and Chief Executive of Diverse City. In 2012 Diverse City created Breathe an international project between Brazil and Dorset that brought together 64 young disabled people to perform at the opening celebrations of the Olympic sailing events, to an audience of 10,000. After the Olympics Claire co-created Extraordinary Bodies with Billy Alwen, Cirque Bijou. Claire was a Clore Fellow in 2012 and writes for The Guardian online. She is the former head of Performing Arts at London Metropolitan University and was awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list 2016 for services to inclusion in the performing arts. Together with Jamie Beddard, Claire won the Clore Duffield 50th Anniversary prize, which was used to tour Extraordinary Bodies Weighting across the UK.
As well as being one of the Lead Artists, Jamie Beddard is also part of the creative team behind Extraordinary Bodies. Jamie has Cerebral Palsy, and having grown up in a time when opportunities for disabled people in the arts were limited, he was lucky to be offered an acting role by the BBC which kicked off his professional career. Since then Jamie has taken the arts world by storm. In 2011 he left his role as Diversity Officer for the Arts Council to concentrate on developing his freelance portfolio. He has been an associate director for Graeae Theatre company, co-editor of ‘Disability Arts in London’ magazine, in 2012 he directed ‘Breathe/Battle for the Winds’ for the opening ceremony celebrating the Olympic Sailing, and in 2013 he became a Clore Fellow. He is now Co-Director of Diverse City, Agent for Change at The New Wolsey Theatre, and has recently starred in ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at National Theatre (Rufus Norris, 2016) and ‘Messiah’ at Bristol Old Vic (Tom Morris, 2017).
Jamie acts as an advocate for the integrated sector, working tirelessly for change. He holds Extraordinary Bodies close to his heart because the project brings communities together and creates unlikely connections between people. Jamie believes that in this current climate of austerity, which is particularly affecting disabled people, it’s these partnerships that hold the key to a brighter future.
“At the grand old age of 48, I unexpectedly ran away to the circus. A new world opened up; new challenges, aesthetics, collaborators and creative expressionism. We are changing the sector explicitly, and the wider community and world, implicitly.”
David Ellington is profoundly deaf and a British Sign language (BSL) user. David discovered his talent for acting in 1997 when he performed as part of the Deaf Festival at the Swan Theatre. Consequently he landed a presenting job with BBC Education, which helped him to pursue his career in television, film and theatre. Since then, David has enjoyed being involved in numerous acting and experimental film-making projects. He has been part of multiple productions with Graeae, he won Best Actor for DEF in the Deaf Oscars, and he was also part of the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony. In the summer of 2016, David landed a ground breaking in-vision signer role on TV trailer ‘We’re The Superhuman – the Road to Rio’ and on a Channel 4 Paralympic TV commercial.
David loves to pursue a challenge and this is how he discovered his love for aerial work. Despite his deafness he is compelled by the demands and complexities of aerial work, and has grown to love the art form. David recognises the need to act as a role model in order to encourage young Deaf people to get involved in the creative industries and believes that being part of Extraordinary Bodies will help spread his message far and wide.
“Despite my deafness I have no boundaries, there is nowhere I can’t go, and Extraordinary Bodies recognises and encourages that. I am able to explore and work with other people in ways I never have before. We are paving the way, discovering new forms, and overcoming new challenges every day. I hope that young Deaf and disabled people can look up to us, and follow our example in order to achieve their own goals.”
Hattie Naylor is an award winning dramatist, and writer of Extraordinary Bodies’ 2015-16 tour of Weighting. Other credits include Ivan And The Dogs, The Night Watch, Going Dark, As the Crow Flies, and Bluebeard. Ivan and the Dogs (Soho Theatre and ATC) was nominated in the Olivier Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre, won the Tinniswood Award in 2010, and has been internationally acclaimed. Her work as a librettist includes Picard in Space with Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) directed by Jude Kelly, for the Electronica Festival at the Southbank 2012. She has also written extensively for BBC Radio 4 and teaches scriptwriting and Sheffield Hallam University.
Hattie is working with Extraordinary Bodies on What am I Worth in 2017 and other current projects include Yana and the Yeti with Pickled Image and As the Crow Flies Pentabus and Salisbury Playhouse.
“Extraordinary Bodies sits across the disciplines of theatre and circus, combining music and movement and text. The work therefore challenges and breaks form and traditional notions of performance whilst maintaining a fundamental principle of accessibility. The challenge of creating such expansive work within a company that recognises and incorporates voices frequently silenced and artists that are individually challenged in areas of disability is truly awe-inspiring.“
Karina Jones is an actor and aerial artist. At age 13 Karina became disabled through a degenerative sight condition, but she didn’t let that discourage her. Karina studied Acting at university, followed by an MA in Voice Studies from Central. In 2012, she answered a call out for disabled artists to perform at the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. She took part in an intensive training course for circus and aerial work, at Circus Centre London, where her passion for circus was realised. From here Karina continued her training at the Green Top Circus in Sheffield, and joined the Extraordinary Bodies team for our premiere of Weighting in 2013, she described the elation and freedom of swinging on an aerial hoop high in the air as one of her biggest achievements.
Karina has since worked with Extraordinary Bodies on UK and International projects, including our recent residency in Australia with Circus Oz. She is currently working with us on our Creative Exploration residencies across the UK, questioning ‘What am I worth?’.
“I love working with Extraordinary Bodies for lots of reasons, but the main reason being the company’s policy on social justice. 20% of people in the UK are disabled and this is always fully represented in the work that Extraordinary Bodies does. I can teach an aerial class or be in a show and it isn’t unusual at all. I love the opportunities Extraordinary Bodies has given me to further my aerial ability, and most of all it’s a lot of fun!’
Dom Coyote was co-composer and musical director for the Extraordinary Bodies show Weighting, alongside Ted Barnes. He also wrote ‘Moments and Memories’ which is the piece of music performed by the integrated choir at the end of the show. The whole soundtrack is available to download here. In 2017-18 Dom and Ted are leading the musical development of Extraordinary Bodies’ second show, What Am I Worth?
Dom is a composer, performer and writer of songs. He studied Performance Writing at Dartington College of Arts, graduating in 2006 and has since worked with bands, theatre companies and arts projects across the UK and internationally. These include Kneehigh Theatre, where he is also an associate artist, the Royal Shakespeare Company, British Council, Art Angel, Cirque Bijou and BAC.
Ted is co-composer as well of one of the musicians for Extraordinary Bodies’ first show, Weighting, and is working with Dom to lead the development of the music for our second show What am I Worth?
The multi-instrumentalist, composer and performer best known for his work with Beth Orton has also formed the band Clayhill and released three solo albums. Ted now writes for film, theatre, circus, dance, art installations, music library, whilst still continuing to work with songwriters. For Ted, being part of Extraordinary Bodies from the beginning has been exciting on many levels. Working alongside Dom, they have found a way of fusing their two worlds of musical language together and they have also been very much part of the development of Weighting using the musical language to guide the show in different directions.
“I had never worked with disabled performers before Extraordinary Bodies, it’s a joy to be part of a company whose manifesto is so integrated and groundbreaking.”
Aislinn is a multi-talented aerial artist, acrobat and actor who started her prolific career at just 4 years old as an artistic gymnast. She completed her BA in Theatre and Dance in Chicago where she also trained with Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and performed with Midnight Circus. Now based in London Aislinn has continued to seek out new performance possibilities, and ways of redefining the circus art form, she has performed as part of the London 2012 Olympics and is a member of the contemporary circus collective ‘Circumference’.
“Extraordinary Bodies provides me with a platform to further question the possibilities of circus, and be part of a truly unique collaboration.”
Eilís is a facilitator, director and theatre maker. She is an inclusive movement specialist bringing together people of all abilities to participate in creative processes. Eilís graduated from the European Theatre Arts programme at Rose Bruford College in 2011. She now combines theatre with her extensive knowledge in creative support and is focused on developing theatre-training practice for young people with access needs.
Eilís is the Artistic Director of Diverse City’s youth company, Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists.
“To me Extraordinary Bodies is a movement that brings people together to explore the world and the lived human experience. In a time where it feels like we are being told to be scared of people who are different from ourselves: Extraordinary Bodies tells us to dive right in to those meetings, explore what we find and take risks.
I find this in our participation work and the amazing individuals I have encountered along this journey we are on, people I could never have met otherwise: Amazing, Brave and fiercely kind individuals. I love it because it’s an act of resistance. It’s magical and mighty. It embodies what the world should look like – communities coming together, new stories being heard and unlikely people centre stage. I love it because whilst we are at it, we invite the rest of the world to watch us, in this act of change.”
International pole champion, dancer and acrobat Deb Roach was born in Australia without her left arm. In 2014 Deb came over from Australia to embrace the UK’s progressive attitude towards disability arts. Working with companies such as Graeae and Candoco, and training with world champion pole artist Kate Czepulkowski, Deb certainly has been making the most of her exceptional talent visa granted by Arts Council England. Deb enjoys pushing the limits of her physicality and exploring the artistic possibilities of her body through contemporary dance, pole dance and circus arts. She views her professional practice as a form of personal enrichment and healing, and as part of the UK’s only integrated circus company hopes to inspire and encourage her audiences and collaborators through her discoveries.
“The performing arts, especially circus, should allow for everyone to participate in on every level, and Extraordinary Bodies is leading by that example. In fact, opening up the whole world to every person of every kind of diversity would be ideal!”
Tom Ball is a born performer, having been involved in the performing arts since the age of 7. He has a multitude of skills and is very much at home on the stage. Tom specialises in static trapeze, and has been performing and teaching professional since graduating from the National Centre for Circus Arts in 2013. Tom joined Extraordinary Bodies in 2013 and was part of the premiere show of Weighting for Exeter’s Unexpected festival. This was his first experience of working with an integrated company, in an interview for The Guardian he said that he now looks forward to showing audiences across the UK how those possibilities can be pushed and how performance knows no limitations.
‘I think that meeting and working with disabled artists has opened up my eyes to the possibilities of performance. Knowing what people are capable of has made me re-evaluate my own capabilities.’
Helen Orford, an award winning hula hoop artist, has lived and breathed performance her whole life, performing professionally since the age of 8. At 15 she started her circus training with Greentop Circus in Sheffield, and then went on to complete a degree in Circus Arts at The National Centre for Circus Arts in London. Helen has performed in prestigious events and shows all over Europe. Helen is also an experienced circus skills teacher, and has been teaching the art of hula hoop to all ages for years. Helen enjoys the focus required to perform her art form, and takes pleasure in the ‘quietening of the mind’ she experiences whilst on stage. She loves being part of Extraordinary Bodies because it allows her to explore the different and unexpected ways in which her skills can be developed and performed, for example as well as hula hooping in the Weighting show, she also played 6 different instruments in the live band. She leads Extraordinary Bodies workshops, teaching circus skills including aerial silks.
Milton Lopes was born in Cape Verde and grew up in Portugal, where he worked as an actor in various TV series, theatre shows and feature films. A speaker of four languages and now based in London, Milton has performed in the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies, worked for companies such as Graeae Theatre Company and Artsadmin, and recently played the part of John ‘The Savage’ for BBC Radio 4’s Brave New World. He is currently developing his own accessible show Elephant that tells the story of a mixed race disabled man, using aerial circus and live music to ask questions such as “Is identity defined first by race or by disability?”
Milton first worked with Extraordinary Bodies as a performer in Weighting, Exeter 2013, he participated in our creative residency with Circus Oz in Australia in December 2016, and this year will be delivering workshops around the country as part of the What Am I Worth? project.
Pat Davey is a London based drummer and composer. He studied jazz at Trinity College of Music where he was recipient of the Archers Scholarship, two years running. He regularly plays sessions on TV and radio and is often found performing in London jazz hot spots, such as: Ronnie Scott’s, Pizza Express and The Vortex. Pat is a founding member of the Anglo/Danish organ trio ‘Acrobat’ and as well as being the drummer for the highly acclaimed spoken word group ‘Tongue Fu’. He is also a stalwart with the Brazilian and world music group ‘Rhythms of the City’. Pat is a highly experienced session musician as well as being a skilled composer and arranger. He has many years of experience teaching drums to both individuals and ensembles across the UK, and has recently become head of Jazz drums at the British & Irish Modern Music Institute in London. He is a regular visiting lecturer at Trinity College of Music, City University and the London College of Creative Media.
“Working with Extraordinary Bodies has given me a unique insight into the potential for integrated and interdisciplinary arts practice. Working alongside the hugely talented cast and crew has been one of the most illuminating and inspiring experiences of my life.”
John is a self taught musician and singer / songwriter. He has worked with Graeae Theatre Company for six years, performed as part of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and worked all over the UK and internationally as an artist, vocalist, workshop leader and performer. He also performs regularly with friends in the band Rockinpaddy.
John is proud to be a Disability and Human Rights Campaigner and has been most fighting for rights to Independent Living. On top of all that he is also a youth worker and a qualified facilitator who works with many different organisations to develop creative & inclusive practice. John narrates and plays the keys in the Extraordinary Bodies Weighting show. He finds working with Extraordinary Bodies exciting, challenging, different artistically and socially, and even a bit scary now and then, but says, ‘It feels right in my heart.’.
“Creativity, performance, music, circus (whatever form of expression I / we use) has a critical role in my life, and I’m proud to be part of the Extraordinary Bodies team doing this work. Firstly to explore, unpack, make sense, articulate and celebrate who I am. Then I can share my experience as a narrative, a story, to engage, have a voice, be heard, challenge, make links, collaborate, resonate with others. Then we collectively make a response, united, stronger, defiant, loud & proud, with real shared & lived values based on our experiences together, we celebrate inclusively, equally and ultimately that it brings real change in our divided society that continues to build disabling barriers, discriminates and oppresses difference… Its time to knock these barriers down with louder songs, bigger performances, humour, fun, energy and genuine passion to go along a shared journey where we are all valued as human beings with all rights respected and alive!”
Ali is a musician and producer who plays double bass and electric bass as part of Weighting. Ali formed the band Red Snapper in 1994 who have recently released a new album and continue to tour extensively across Europe. He has also written and performed with artists such as Beth Orton, Paloma Faith, The Chemical Brothers and Death in Vegas. Ali was a founding member of the band Clayhill alongside weighting musician and composer Ted Barnes. Currently Ali is part of the family based music innovation called ‘Mrs H. and the Singalong Band’, a group who specialise in interactive music and singing sessions with young children and their carers. The project also delivers outreach to some of the more deprived areas of London as well as community centres and schools. Ali also creates production music and his compositions are used on TV and film across the world.
Colin is the choir leader for the massed community choir that forms the finale of Weighting. Colin has taught singing for over 15 years both in formal educational settings and within the performing arts industry. He has delivered children’s choirs for Bill Kenwright’s Joseph tour, Evita and opera productions in Torquay, and sung around the UK as well as abroad. Colin has an inclusive approach to music making and is a firm believer that everybody can sing. He runs his own company Big Noise Chorus Ltd, a non-auditioning network of choirs focusing on popular music and raising money for local charities in the South West. He also was recently involved in a study on whether singing technique can be used to help voice feminisation for transgender clients within a transgender choir.
“It never ceases to amaze me how many people believe (or have been told) that they cannot sing – especially by teachers who really should know better. Singing is a vulnerable art which relies on trust and openness to perform well, and any teacher worth their salt knows and nurtures this with singers of all abilities.”
Dr Roz Hall is a nationally recognised researcher and evaluator who has worked in the field of socially engaged arts practice since 1991. Her PhD, entitled, ‘Practising Inclusivity with New Media: Young People, Digital Technology and Democratic Cultural Participation’ led her to use a ‘process-generated’ approach to evaluation. Roz works for an extensive and varied range of national and international arts organisations, developing and using creative approaches to evaluation and embedding ongoing reflection into practice. Roz has worked with Cirque Bijou since 2011 and has subsequently worked with Diverse City and Extraordinary Bodies to support and develop relevant creative and reflective evaluation processes for all involved.
“As a firm believer in everyone’s right to culturally participate, as producers as well as consumers of culture, I value the amazing contribution Extraordinary Bodies is making to contemporary outdoor arts and the wider arts sector. Everyone involved has high expectations and ambitions, which they consistently refuse to compromise, ensuring world class productions. This challenges the assumptions that many people make about inclusive arts, by proving that quality and equality are perfect bedfellows.”
Will Datson has been designing & making sets and equipment for circus & theatre for over a decade, as well as creating large-scale artwork in the public realm. He is the creator of our magnificent large scale structure ‘The Bridge’ that shines as the rotating centre piece of our Weighting show, and has recently created the spinning, transformative set of our new show ‘What Am I Worth?’.
“Working with Extraordinary Bodies is challenging and rewarding on both a professional and a personal level. I love the trusting, family-like environment when we’re on tour, it’s such a lovely company to work with.”
Saul has been interested in circus since childhood, when No Fit State Circus would come to Narberth, Wales where he grew up. This inspired him to run away with the circus, and soon he was training in performance and rigging with No Fit State, eventually become head rigger for the company. He first worked with Extraordinary Bodies in 2015 as part of Weighting.
“Having worked for over 13 years in the circus world, it’s a challenging pleasure to work with Extraordinary Bodies on their ground breaking style of circus. They have full inclusion in the company, regardless of physical make up or disability, which is why their work is so important. They really are pioneering the way, showcasing UK circus in a new light for everybody.”
Ali Williams is one of the co-founders and creative directors of NoFit State. She spent 30 years with the company and has been a performer, fundraiser, community director, and creative producer of many shows. She was director of the Circus Development Agency from 2008-10 and has been an active member of the Circostrada European Circus and Street Arts network. She has always had an interest in using circus as a tool for inclusion to improve communities and supports many social circus projects.
Working within Extraordinary bodies Ali is responsible for chairing the Talent Development panel which is looking at career pathways for D/deaf & disabled & BAME performers.The panel is working with training schools and youth organisations to create and deliver an action plan for more inclusive circus in the UK. This fits with her philosophy of making circus accessible and inclusive to the whole community. Circus for everyone is where Ali is at and this ties in perfectly with the aims of Extraordinary Bodies.
Within her role Ali supports many other circus companies and promoters in an advisory capacity. Ali has been on the Roundhouse Circus Fest advisory board and the artistic advisory board for Circolombia. She has mentored many emerging companies and is passionate about supporting trainees and emerging artists to develop their talents.
Les Finnemore is stage manager for Extraordinary Bodies. For 15 years he held senior business roles, and spent his spare time getting involved in Bristol arts projects. Then in 2012 he worked on the Olympic Opening Ceremony and saw the real power of the arts, how it can be can be truly inclusive and impact positively on Society. This sparked his decision to turn his back on the nine to five culture, and instead make his living as an independent arts professional.
“Extraordinary Bodies has changed me and my whole outlook on life. I want to continue participating in social change, make equality and inclusion the norm and make great circus for everybody. Extraordinary Bodies is important to me and to the world because; we reflect society in its structure, strategy, behaviour, shows and audience, we tell our story about a more diverse and integrated world to a wide and diverse audience nationally and internationally, we provide real opportunities for artists, crew, musicians and singers, and we celebrate diversity and accessibility.”
Rob has lived and worked in the events world since he was a teenager, and has been working on shows and festivals as an events/production manager ever since, as well being a musician, performer and workshop leader.
A regular crew member for Cirque Bijou shows, Rob’s role in the Weighting tour extends out into areas such as access needs, special diet catering, and looking after the whole of the groups needs on tour… one of the cast bought him a mug with ‘Mum’ written on it, and for him this sums up everything!
“I am excited and inspired by Extraordinary Bodies and love being part of its diverse, creative and amazing team. I really think we can make a difference to the world through inspiring the audience.”