The award-winning Canadian circus company, Cirque du Soleil, has announced plans to open a permanent base in London at the Battersea Power Station, where this week it will raise a big-top tent to present its latest show, Quidam. Work is set to begin on the project within the next six months and will take up to five years at an estimated cost of £500m.

Cirque du Soleil was established in Quebec in 1984 by a troupe of street performers. Since then, it has grown to employ over 2,000 people (500 of them performers) presenting seven shows across four continents. To date, the company has sold more than 23 million tickets for its shows, which blend traditional circus skills with street entertainment and big-budget effects.

Battersea Power Station is part of Cirque du Soleil s long-term strategy to open four to six entertainment complexes in world capital cities over the next decade. The London complex, which is being developed in conjunction with Hong Kong-based developers Parkview, will be the first of these and, as such, the company s first permanent base outside of North America. The completed venue will feature some 2,000 seats and a performance space reaching 50 to 70 metres high (in order to accommodate the circus s famous aerial routines).

Built in 1930, Battersea Power Station is a Grade I-listed structure and believed to be the largest brick building in Europe. Its size, its four tall chimneys and its prime location on the south bank of the River Thames have combined to make it one of London s most recognisable landmarks. In the 1970s, it featured on the album cover for Pink Floyd s “Animals”. Despite its renown, however, the station has stood empty since 1975.

Cirque du Soleil founding president, Guy Laliberte, called the Power Station project a “massive and truly exciting challenge”. He continued, “To me this building continues to radiate the energy that it used to convert. It is a hugely powerful symbol. We want to reflect that energy and power in helping to create an environment and destination that will excite the imagination and stimulate the senses.”

Quidam directed by Cirque du Soleil s Franco Dragone, opens this week in a circus tent specially erected beside the Power Station. It plays there from 15 December 2000 to 7 January 2001 before moving on to Manchester s Old Trafford stadium where it runs from 16 February 2001 to 4 March 2001.