Unlocking Cambodian Symbolism in “Sokha”: A Journey With Phare Circus
Today, we’re diving into the mesmerizing world of the Phare Circus show, “Sokha,” where every twist and turn is packed with the rich tapestry of Cambodian symbolism. This show is more than just a performance; it’s a heartfelt saga that takes you on a rollercoaster ride through Cambodia’s recent history, filled with powerful emotions and inspiring tales.
“Sokha” draws its inspiration from the real-life experiences of the founders of Phare Ponleu Selpak non-profit school. It unravels their journey from being young students in Cambodia’s flourishing days to surviving the harrowing Khmer Rouge civil war. They then go on to create a school using art as a medium to heal and educate other children. It’s a testament to resilience and the power of creativity.
Now, let’s explore some of the captivating Cambodian symbols that make “Sokha” such a moving experience:
Symbolism of Boxes: Building and Rebuilding
Throughout the show, you’ll notice the creative use of boxes. At first, they’re carefully arranged to depict the serene Angkor Wat during Cambodia’s peaceful times. Later, they transform into desks for vibrant students who eventually seek refuge under them in times of terror. As these boxes tumble from great heights, they symbolize the crumbling building blocks of cities. These boxes represent the enduring burdens that people carry due to chaos. In the end, they take on a new shape, signifying independence and the path towards a peaceful and abundant Cambodia.
Live Painting: A Canvas of Emotions
There is deep Cambodian symbolism in the live painting during the performance. The show kicks off with a traditional Buddha statue, evoking memories of a peaceful, religious, and thriving Cambodia. But then, the canvas transforms into a depiction of bombs exploding, portraying the devastation and despair of the Cambodian people during those dark times. The red handprints on the canvas reflect the desperation and sadness of those yearning to escape the Khmer Rouge’s grasp. The destruction of religious freedom is vividly portrayed as the original Buddha is covered in black paint. What’s revealed is a chaotic scene, turned upside down to reveal a skull. It’s a stark reminder that the regime led only to death for millions of people.
Evolution through Painting
The final painting tells a vivid story of societal evolution and reconstruction. As Sokha returns to Cambodia after being a refugee, it’s the 80s and early 90s, a time when the country, after the Vietnamese occupation, starts to rebuild. The countryside is depicted as a peaceful and generous place where people can thrive through their hard work. Time marches on as the painter transforms the canvas with roads, lights, and buildings, illustrating the country’s gradual resurgence.
Masks: Unmasking the Past
The use of masks to portray the Khmer Rouge creates haunting and disturbing characters. However, there’s depth beyond the fear factor. The masks symbolize the transformation of ordinary people into monstrous roles during that period. They represent the dual nature of these individuals, showing how they embraced a dark side when they took on their roles. Some even remove their masks, revealing their vulnerability and the inner turmoil they endured. It’s a reminder that even the perpetrators were victims in their own right.
“There is one part in the show where an executioner is feeling powerful by executing others. Suddenly, when he’s done, he looks back and he’s scared – he takes off his mask. It’s the symbolism of who you are behind that role you had during the war. The executioners were also victims at the same time.” There is also a ‘rola bola’ scene in the Khmer Rouge period, which is very symbolic. “It shows how they tried to build a country and society which was very unstable. They are not building on solid foundations and so it was a disaster.
The Art of Healing
One of the most powerful metaphors in the show involves juggling balls. A traumatized young student struggles with three heavy, black juggling balls, representing the weight of his haunting experiences. Sokha steps in, replacing each black ball with a shining orange one, symbolizing the transformation of negative emotions into hope and positivity. It’s a beautiful metaphor for turning a dark past into a source of strength and dynamic action.
In the end, Sokha’s return to Cambodia as a thriving refugee underscores the show’s core message: the healing power of art. Through her teaching, she transforms the lives of countless Cambodian children, helping them confront their inner demons and find hope.
If your travels take you to Cambodia, don’t miss the chance to witness the profound Cambodian symbolism in “Sokha” at the Phare Circus. It’s not just a show; it’s a journey through history, emotions, and the incredible resilience of the human spirit.
Learn more about “Sokha“, the show based on the stories of the founders of Phare Ponleu Selpak non-profit school.
Read about the author of “Sokha”, and one of the original founders of Phare Ponleu Selpak Artistic Center: KHUON Det.
Download the “Sokha” soundtrack.