Extraordinary Bodies is a vital collaboration between show-makers, Cirque Bijou, and Diverse City, a charity that champions diversity and equity in the performing arts. Collectively, we create a unique and magical space where diverse bodies are embraced, boundaries are broken, and inclusivity is championed. Bringing together the skill and talent of D/deaf, disabled, and non-disabled artists, our work is testament to how diverse, extraordinary people can work equally together on and off stage.
We empower the next generation of performers through Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists. Our flagship performing arts training company for disabled and non-disabled 16- to 30-year-olds makes experimental, and thought-provoking work, which is performed across the UK.
Powered by passion and purpose, we rely on the support of public funding, charitable giving* and trusts, and foundations. Every show is made possible by people who share our belief in inspiring a fairer and more inclusive world.
* Administered by charity, Diverse City.
Extraordinary Bodies is a company of artist activists. This collaboration between colleagues from Cirque Bijou and Diverse City brings together an exciting array of creative minds, artists, theatre practitioners, musicians, writers and crew. Click on the people below to find out more.
Photo credits: top cover photo by Pul Blakemore, headshots by Chelsey Cliff, Andre Pattenden and Dom Moore.
Audio version voiceover by Angela Moore.
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 collaborated with the Desperate Men and Diverse City to make Battle for the Winds and Breathe which launched 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 made three more shows, co Directed by Billy and Claire, What Am I worth, Splash and Human.
Claire is a Theatre, Dance and Circus Director, committed to achieving social justice. Claire founded Diverse City in 2005 and is the co-founder of Extraordinary Bodies, the UK’s leading professional integrated circus company.
Claire was a Clore Fellow in 2012 and writes for The Guardian online. She is a former course leader for Performing Arts at London Metropolitan University and was awarded an MBE in 2016 for services to inclusion in the Performing Arts. Together with Jamie Beddard, Claire won the Clore Duffield 50th Anniversary prize, which they used to tour Extraordinary Bodies across the UK and support 10 ‘Unexpected Leaders’ who have faced barriers to entering the industry.
She is a co-creator of Mid Life, a taboo breaking show about menopause that played to sold out houses in 2019, and will be remounted in 2023. The show also led to Diverse City’s first short film Mid Life: The Skin We Are In.
In July 2022 Claire led almost 600 dancers to break the Guinness world record for the largest ever disco dance at Camp Bestival. She also created a large-scale piece sea choreography called SW!M in Swanage, Dorset, in collaboration with The Mowlem. Claire co-created and directed Human that toured 21/22 and the Extraordinary Bodies film What Do you see in me? that was filmed in lockdown.
As well as being one of the Lead Artists, Jamie Beddard is also part of the creative team behind Extraordinary Bodies. Having grown up in a time when opportunities for disabled people in the arts were limited, Jamie 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, was recently Agent for Change at The New Wolsey Theatre, and has starred in ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at National Theatre (Rufus Norris, 2016) and ‘Messiah’ at Bristol Old Vic (Tom Morris, 2017). Over the past year, Jamie has written and Co-Directed the Extraordinary Bodies production of Delicate, Co-Directed the Green Space, Dark Skies project in Dartmoor National Park and has been Co-Written Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror.
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.”
Beryl is an arts marketing consultant working within communications, PR, marketing and branding for more than ten years. Specialising in the arts and culture sector, she was previously Head of Communications at Trigger; a Bristol based arts organisation that creates and large scale outdoor and digital events and Communications Manager at Watershed, – a mixed -art venue, independent cinema and creative technology centre in Bristol.
Previously, Beryl worked in Branding and Design and in PR for a range of arts organisations, venues and festivals in Bristol including Bristol Beacon, IBT (Inbetween Time Festival), The Other Art Fair, Upfest – Europe’s largest street art festival, Massive Attack on the Downs, St Pauls Carnival, Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, Harbour Festival and Troxy and Natural History Museum (Events).
Eva is a South Korean interdisciplinary artist and administrator based in London. She was born in Spain, raised in Brazil, educated in Beijing, and now lives in the UK.
A performer, painter and theatre-maker, she explores her work through care and the influence of her nomadic life.
As well as being part of the Extraordinary Bodies team as Marketing Assistant, she is a co-founder of ANTS Theatre: an experimental theatre company excelling at pointed pointlessness.
Passionate about the arts, Binita spent the first 20 years of her career being a visual artist making glass works that can be seen in buildings around the country. After the recession ended her glass career, Binita worked in marketing and communications for theatre and festivals. Since 2016, Binita has been a freelance specialist in Public Relations and works for some of the most exciting arts and culture companies in the UK.
“I love working with companies who innovate in their field and make the arts accessible to all and that’s exactly what Extraordinary Bodies is doing. My role is to elevate the voices and work of the team and the shows so that more people know about their incredible work.”
Hattie Naylor is a multi-award-winning dramatist and writer of Extraordinary Bodies’: Weighting, What am I Worth? and Human. Other credits include the Olivier nominated and Tinniswood winning: Ivan and The Dogs, renamed: Lek and the Dogs, when adapted for film (Andrew Kötting 2017). Other theatre work include: The Night Watch adapted from Sarah Waters, Going Dark with Sound & Fury, Dido’s Bar with Dash Arts, and Bluebeard with Gallivant. Her work as a librettist includes Picard in Space with Will Gregory (Goldfrapp) for the Electronica Festival at the Southbank 2012.
She is a neurodivergent artist and this influences her work and collaborations. The film: Diseased and Disorderly (Andrew Kötting and Eden Kötting 2021) currently available on the BFI website, was in the official selection for the London Film Festival and Rain Dance amongst others. She has written extensively for BBC Audio Drama; Dead Weather won the BBC Audio drama awards in 2022. She is a senior lecturer in scriptwriting at Sheffield Hallam University.
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.”
Rachel is Company Manager at Cirque Bijou and Associate Producer for Human and Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror. Working closely with the lead producers and creative team, she plays an important part in helping deliver our shows as part of our three year pattern of touring diverse led circus.
“I love that my position at Cirque Bijou includes such an active role in Extraordinary Bodies. Working alongside the producers has taught me a lot, and it’s been such a joy to work with (and for) our talented cast and crew. Each project we embark upon seems to be even more important and groundbreaking than the last. Long may it continue!”
Kate is a Producer & Agent for Change with Extraordinary Bodies. She is currently producing our new show in development ‘Human’, which will tour from Autumn 2021.
Kate’s journey with the company began in 2012 whilst she was graduating from her degree in Performance Design at the Arts University Bournemouth. She managed the design and creation of 80+ costumes in a large-scale community performance called ‘Breath’ on Weymouth Beach, which was part of the opening celebrations of the Olympic Sailing events.
Outside of her work with Extraordinary Bodies, Kate is a freelance creative producer working with a number of other brilliant and status quo challenging artists and artist-led companies. These include Viv Gordon Company, Anna Berry and Green Ginger. She has also collaborated with Strike A Light, Inside Out Dorset Festival, Made by Katie Green, Cohan Collective and Butterfly Theatre Company.
Kate is particularly passionate about removing barriers to arts and cultural activities, through supporting diverse artists and audiences.
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!’
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.”
Fiona has worked in the theatre industry in a variety of roles since 2009, predominantly as a tour booker and venue programmer.
From 2014-2017 she worked as a Regional Programmer for ATG, programming a diverse range of work into ATG’s 22 venues around the UK, from rock and roll and comedy gigs to opera and classical concerts.
Fiona relocated to Edinburgh in 2017 and was appointed Bookings Coordinator at general management and tour booking agency Great Leap Forward. In this role she coordinated national and international tours for a range of clients including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, the National Theatre, Selladoor Worldwide and Sadler’s Wells.
In 2020, Fiona began offering producing, programming and tour booking services on a freelance basis to clients in both the commercial and subsidised sectors. She is currently engaged as part-time Producer for All or Nothing Aerial Dance Theatre, Associate Touring Producer for 1DegreeEast working with clients including Ballo Arthur Pita and Told By An idiot, as Freelance Tour Booker for Extraordinary Bodies, and as freelance Programming Consultant for CentreStage Theatre, a new mid-scale performing arts venue in Ayrshire.
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.”
Jess joined the company in 2018 as a Creative Support Worker with
Extraordinary Bodies Young Artists (EBYA). She has worked extensively in SEN schools specialising in therapy support and wellbeing for young people. She is a qualified Children and Special yoga teacher working in school and community settings. Jess is also the Creative Access lead with the Connecting Communities and Unexpected Leaders project, working closely with Gemma Alldred our Co-Evaluation Producer. She is looking forward to supporting people whilst developing the vital role of access workers in the cultural sector.