May 10th, 2016
Siem Reap, Phare Circus
So my journey has brought me to Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world. I will discuss my adventures there in a later post, but today I want to tell you about my experience at the Phare Circus.
As you may (or may not) know, Cambodia was recently torn apart under the reigns of the Khmer Rouge. Millions upon millions of people were killed in a mass genocide, and the remains can still be seen in the killing fields of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A civil war pinned brothers against brothers, fathers against sons, and put weapons into the hands of children and adults alike. Refugees fled from their home, and after thirty years of death and despair, the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled, and they were able to start returning to whatever homes they had left.
So begins the story of the Phare Circus. Twenty years ago, 9 children and their art teacher returned home as displaced refugees – and they began the construction of a school in Battambang, Cambodia with their own hands. This school, the Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), provides art education to young children from poverty, orphanages, and homelessness. The school started as an art school, and then expanded to music, theater, and finally the circus.
The Phare Circus in Siem Reap is more of a masterpiece of visual arts than a circus. The entire performance consists of graduates of PPS, from the employees to the script to the musicians to the performance – and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. The show that I got to see, Eclipse, is a story based on bullying. It follows a man with deformities who, after being rejected by his peers, is turned into a beautiful woman to humiliate and wound his attackers. It was heartbreaking, powerful, at times humorous, and moving. The acrobatics were on par with some of the Cirque de Sole shows I’ve seen, and the intimacy of the show (10 rows, maybe 150 people in total) created such an electric atmosphere.
I was so thankful for this experience, and for the chance to speak with some of the performers after the show. It was a humbling evening, and one that I would have genuinely missed out upon if not for the recommendation for the show (thanks, Gili and Seth!).
Here’s a link to the website if you’d like to take a look!