Cirque du Cambodia

Phare Circus performance

The thought of circuses (and especially those in still-developing countries) tends to conjure images of sad-looking elephants and monkeys riding tiny tricycles, but nothing could be further from Cambodia’s Phare Circus.

Based in Siem Reap, famous for the iconic Angkor Wat and surrounding Khmer Empire temples, the Phare Circus has a trifold mission: providing employment for underprivileged Cambodian youths, providing education through the Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO school, and revitalising the world of Cambodian modern art.

Acrobatics at the Phare Circus
Phare Circus performance
Phare performance

During the years of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 and 1979, Pol Pot’s government systematically sought out and killed anyone who did not fit in to their agrarian vision for Cambodia – including up to 90% of the country’s intellectuals, teachers, artists, musicians and dancers. The only “arts” that were permitted were in the service of propaganda, and Cambodia’s cultural and artistic heritage was all but exterminated in one fell swoop.

What took just four years to destroy has taken many more to rebuild, and with an entire generation of artists wiped from history, Cambodia will be in the process of re-establishing its artistic tradition for many years yet. Phare Circus is just one of the organisations contributing to Cambodia’s cultural renaissance, and as everyone who watches their performances agrees, they are onto a winner.

The Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) school was originally formed 20 years ago by a group of students and an art teacher who had been refugees during the Khmer Rouge era. What started as an art school expanded to include a free public school, a music school, a theatre school, and finally a circus school – from which the Phare Circus was eventually born in 2013.

Phare Circus performance
Impressive acrobatics

The Phare troupe, made up entirely of young Cambodians from difficult socio-economic backgrounds, performs a rotation of shows exploring a variety of themes, including disability, war, discrimination, poverty, and ghosts. It all sounds very worthy – too worthy to be enjoyable, you might think – but we can assure you that these performances are absolutely gripping. In fact, the Phare performers have toured all over the world to great acclaim, including a recent tour of the United States.

Exciting acrobatics, impressive choreography, genuinely amusing humour and compelling storylines make this a fantastic night out that’s guaranteed to keep you entertained. Want to see fire eaters? Check. Want to see aerial acrobatics, suspended from the ceiling by nothing but a piece of fabric? Check. Want to see a girl shoot a balloon with a bow and arrow using her feet while balancing on her hands?? Check.

I won’t give any more away – but next time you’re in Siem Reap, I urge you to check out the Phare Circus. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

August 2014 trip

InsideAsia's Matt Spiller hanging out with the Phare acrobats

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