Here I am, arriving in Siem Reap for 3 days. I don’t really know where I’m going or what I’m going to find. I’ve done no research, I’ve just spent 9 hours on a night bus and I am being picked up at 6am by a man called Mr. Why Not to be taken to my hostel.
Did I expect that I would be going to the circus that night? Nope. Did I even know there WAS a circus in Siem Reap? No.
And these are the moments where you find those gems that make travel all worth it.
$15, one of the more expensive things I had done at the time. Also, it was one of the best.
Phare, the Cambodian circus is something of a treasure in Siem Reap. Some have heard about it before arriving, others haven’t. Everyone I met along the way who had yet to visit, heard about this wonder of creation and skill and art. Because that’s what it is, it’s an art.
The show follows a native Cambodian story of morals and spirits and belief. There are a number of shows, I saw Eclipse.
“Steeped in the Cambodian culture and popular beliefs, Eclipse is a tale about discrimination. A young man, who suffers from being rejected because of his difference, prays for divine intervention. The gods transform him into a very attractive woman, suddenly getting a lot of positive attention, until a mysterious plague begins to consume all the villagers.Eclipse artists will astonish you with their energy, emotion, enthusiasm and talent. You will leave feeling elated by this story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”
The artists act through their movements and expressions. They tell a story with dance, while playing with the elements and constantly drawing gasps from the audience. It’s theatre. It’s dance. It’s acrobatics. It’s a circus. It’s a fire show. It’s comedic, yet moving. It’s spectacular.
The shapes, the movements – they defy all gravity and basic human strength. You can tell that the performers are disciplined and dedicated to their art in every way. It is their lives. You can see it in their faces: there is a love and passion that you cannot force or fake. They appear blessed in their talents, it honestly shines through.
And that was what made the show touching, as well as leaving me in awe. All of the performers come from Phare Ponleu Selpak, a school formed 20 years ago by just 9 children and their teacher after they escaped a refugee camp, held by the then falling Khmer Rouge. They wanted to share their creativity with other young people in Battambang, as a way of expression and art.
The art school and public school were founded as a way to free education for Cambodian children. Soon after, a music school, theatre school and circus school were formed. Today, 1200 attend the public school children and 500 students attend the alternative branches.
The show is a way of sustaining the schools and giving the graduates the opportunity to follow this career in full employment, as well as bringing tourists to Siem Reap. That’s what your $15 goes towards. And when you see these people, you know they have worked hard for it, and that this organisation is truly doing something good for the future.
I’m not one to rave about something if I don’t truly find it fantastic. But anyone who visits Siem Reap without going to at least one show is a fool – it’s an experience I have never had, or found anywhere else. Worth every penny.