Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Uniquely Cambodian, Daringly Modern
Siem Reap has a new “must see” attraction. The Big Red Big Top behind the Angkor National Museum hosts nightly performances from Phare, The Cambodian Circus. What is it? Why is it? Tell me more.
Uniquely Cambodian. The shows tell stories. These touch on themes strong in Cambodian tradition, ethos and spirit. A modern ghost story – many Cambodians are petrified of ghosts. A run-away boy – abused by his mother, ignored by his drunken father – tragically too real in Cambodia. A man shunned because of a disability, wreaks revenge, until the whole situation gets out of hand. These are Cambodian stories. The music is Cambodian, the artists are Cambodian. It is unique.
Daringly Modern. This is not traditional circus. The skills are daring. Contortion, juggling, acrobatics, balancing mix with dance, modern and traditional theatre. The treatment is modern. The art scene in Cambodia is new. Everything about this circus is new, modern, daring. Will the acrobat make the jump to the top of the tower? Let’s see.
It pulls the emotions. You laugh, you are amazed by the skills, you “ooh” and “ahh”. There are sad moments, frightening moments, great moments and great joy. Emotion – a strong theme in the shows. Some of the shows are offered by students – you are stunned by their youth and enthusiasm, how much they have learned. Some by seasoned professionals – here you are dazzled by the proficiency of the performers.
Phare Ponleu Selpak was formed 20 years ago by 8 young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime. They were greatly helped by art therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school. A public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programmes, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.
Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and somewhere to earn a decent wage. Money that will take them out of poverty and give them self-respect and freedom.