Last October I was in Siem Reap during Pchm Ben holidays and enjoyed a relaxed two weeks catching up with Savong and many of the students. I also caught up with Kimleng and his family – people I’d first met in Auckland – and found they had a deep connection with many of the students we support. They come from the same village 60kms east of Siem Reap.
On my last night I wanted to thank Kimleng for all his help transporting me and students back to their families in Kampong Kdei for Pchum Ben. The journey is worth another story or two.
I decided to shout them a night at the Phare Circus of which I had read glowing reviews. We enjoyed dinner first, seven of us including 3 students, and then we drove through the balmy evening to the big tent.
I’d forgotten what a cool effect the big top has as you wend your way to the entrance. It was like a red shroud that enveloped a deep mystery. Expectations ran high – the students had no idea what they were in for.
We were seated and before the show we learned of the organisation behind Phare Circus: a self-funding association that runs a school and teaches performance skills to young Cambodians, and steeps them in the global traditions of circus. After all, many of the acts – of balancing, juggling and mime date back centuries and were shared along the silk road between Asia and Europe.
Then the show began: a 75 minute tour de force that told a folk story of a peasant who journeys on his way to find respect. His adventures are told in a series of set pieces that each show off tightrope walking, fire juggling, acrobatics and choreographed fights as well as a funny act involving a barefoot climb up a coconut tree: one of the steel poles that hold up the tent. All this was set to the propulsive Khmer music – drums, horns and strings – that added to the unique experience.
I had the utter joy of sitting next to the three students and watching their gasps of awe as the show unfolded. They have phones these days, and were taking photos to capture the event to show their friends. They loved the spectacle of the fire work, and applauded the acrobats as they jumped up on the shoulders of their physically amazing performance colleagues. The ensemble, mostly guys stripped to the waist, were absolutely lean and ripped.
When the show came to a close the ensemble invited the audience down to take selfies with the artists and to talk about their work: a great touch that rounded off a perfect night.
Well just about. After the show we rolled up to Lucky Mall and enjoyed an ice-cream and talked excitedly about the spectacle we’d just seen. I told the students that next year they would be expected to be experts at fire juggling. Somehow they didn’t believe me.
If you’re going to Siem Reap add Phare Circus to your list of must-do activities. The show is world-class (I think they are touring France/USA this year) and the $18 admission is a bargain for a memorable, joyous experience.
Their website: http://pharecircus.org/
I want to take more students next time.