Images that come to mind of a circus aside from Cirque du Soleil may involve daredevil animal acts, high-flying acrobatics and thrilling stunts as such someone being shot from a cannon. I also think of roving food vendors, overpriced souvenirs, brass bands and the clamor of countless children.
The circus that I attended under a big tent had just two of those features: many children plus ambitious acrobatics performed by an astonishingly poised, graceful and accomplished collection of teenagers and pre-teens.
As the Web site promises:
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.
One reason I went was that the sold-out event, held on two evenings, functioned as a fund-raiser, though the tickets went for all of $4, supporting schools that gives kids a way out of poverty. The other was advertising for the event, which mentioned that there is a 1,000-year-old tradition of circuses in Cambodia.
Billed as the Tini Tinou (“Here There”) Cambodian Circus Festival, the entertainment began with an hour-long show that included acrobats and clowns of the National Circus School of Phnom Penh. Performing during the second hour was Phare The Cambodian Circus.
The skills they mustered matched any that I have witnessed previously. Whether dangling from fabric or cables, tumbling or juggling, the young men and women received numerous rounds of justified applause for their impressive agility and unvarnished bravery.
Among those in the audience of more than 1,000 were disadvantaged children who were, of course, provided free entry.
Phare company was formed 20 years ago by eight young men 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 the city of Battambang.
First, They founded an art school, then a public school that offers free education. A music school and theater school were next and, finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. The public school boasts an enrollment of some 1,200 and the alternative schools, 500.
Before the show got under way, I kept wondering what I was doing there among an audience that seemed composed entirely of families or constellations of young people sitting together.
Now I know, having observed the students’ virtuosity and felt the crowd’s enthusiasm.