Having spent the past week being truly horrified by the events of the Khmer Rouge regime, my journey concluded with a trip to the Phare Circus in Siem Reap.
The Phare Circus should be experienced at least once along your travels through this beautiful country. And don't worry animal lovers, this circus is strictly human! Not only will you be guaranteed an evening of entertainment by a group of acrobats who make Stretch-Armstrong look stiff (fellow 90s kids will appreciate that reference), but by purchasing a ticket to see the Phare Circus, you are supporting the training school which continues to provide underprivelegd youths with an education and performing arts training.
The Birth of Phare
Phare was the brainchild of nine young refugees who were returning to Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. They turned to the performing arts as a form of therapy in the refugee camps. Since then, the school has grown to over 1200 trainees, and the profits from the shows go back in to the school to train and educate the next generation of Cambodian artists. The performers are trained at Phare Ponleu Salpak in Battambang and are provided with a free public education as well as performing arts training. It is an opportunity a lot of them would otherwise not have, and with Cambodia’s people still recovering from the damage made by the Khmer Rouge just a few decades ago, oraganisations such as Phare are vitally important in supporting the development of Cambodia’s next generation.
What to expect at a Phare Circus
The performance will be in Khmer but fear not, there are screens up with English subtitles. However, you’ll soon find that you are so engrossed in the performance, you will forget the subtitles and let the music and the acrobatics tell the story.
Phare is a storytelling performance. Having evolved from something which started in refugee camps as a form of therapy to young refugees, to where it is now - telling stories of contemporary Cambodian life, the evolution of Phare Circus forms a part of Cambodia's narrative in itself. If you like - Phare Circus is a story within a story, as young performers now carry this tradition through as they tell the tales of contemporary life in Cambodia.
I watched a performance called ‘Khmer Metal’, which explored the lives of urban workers in Cambodia. The story was set in a typical Phnom Penh bar owned by two brothers with a range of characters and a metal band providing the grungy urban setting ambience (if ever there was such a thing!). The inside of this bar played host to a number of micro-plots – of love, jealousy, crime and tourism, all of which caused the characters to cross paths in some way or form.
From the expats and locals, to the shady characters, the love triangle over the pretty girl, and of course, the workers - you never know who will walk through the door next. This performance contained an element of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and it certainly pushes the boundaries. I’m pretty sure there was even a homosexual character in the story!
The story was carried through a combination of dance, acrobatics, singing and acting. With so much happening on the stage, the Phare Circus makes for an evening of entertainment for every-one, from young families to culture-loving backpackers.