30 March 2013

The Cambodian Circus: Phare Ponleu Selpak’s 'Eclipse'

The lovely low-cost lighting at the entrance (with full moon)

I went to the circus last Wednesday night! It was a night out with my work colleagues here in Siem Reap, Cambodia and a wonderful treat.

The circus is a product of the Phare Ponleu Selpak Art School in Battambang. It has only recently begun operating here in Siem Reap and, for want of funds, presents its show outdoors under the stars – not a problem in the dry season but impossible in the rainy season, so they are currently fundraising for a big top.

As it says on the circus webpage, by going along to a performance, and perhaps giving a small additional donation, you will be helping to build an indoor performance facility so the shows can continue when the rains come to Siem Reap, as well as helping to support the careers of these young performing artists, and the wonderful creative and vocational programmes of the Phare Ponleu Selpak Association.

I was amused by their pricing structure: the price for children is based on their height, not their age: ‘Ticket is priced at USD 15.00 for adult and USD 8.00 for children lower than 120cm and free of charge of infant lower than 80cm.’




At the moment the circus features two different shows: we saw the one called Eclipse. The signage at the event gave this description: ‘Steeped in the culture and Cambodian 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 attracting [sic] woman, suddenly getting a lot of attention, until a mysterious plague begins to consume all the villagers …’.


As may be obvious, this is more of a Cirque de Soleil type of performance that the more Western tradition of ringmaster, animals and clowns. There were none of those at Eclipse but there were jugglers and acrobats galore! The troupe consisted of perhaps a dozen young Khmers, of whom two were young women and the rest very fit and agile young men. A full range of acrobatic skills was used to illustrate the Eclipse storyline and, though what speech there was was in Khmer, it wasn’t necessary to understand the words as long as you had first read the story brief.

It was a vibrant, energetic and, at times, spectacular performance, which my colleagues and I enjoyed immensely!