Phare, the Cambodian Circus

Wowing audiences

What we say: 3.5 stars

Eye-popping acrobatics, hypnotic dance, thrilling, bone-chilling music, dramatic live art, enough energy to power a million dreams and stories that will make you laugh, then cry, then smile deep inside. That is the essence of Phare, the Cambodian Circus, a contemporary performance troupe that brings Cambodian history and culture to the fore with a special style. It is one of the genuinely unmissable performances available in Siem Reap.

Phare is a livelier alternative to Apsara shows and shadow puppets.

Performers are able to build more stable futures for themselves and their families.

Siem Reap’s Phare, the Cambodian Circus was created by Phare Ponleu Selpak, a Battambang-based performance and arts school established by survivors of the refugees camps in Thailand, where so many Cambodians fled during and after the Khmer Rouge years. Their aims over the last 20 years have been to provide disadvantaged youth with real employment and to breathe new life into Cambodian visual, applied and performance arts. The art school in Battambang has become a powerhouse of the Cambodian art scene and the two circuses are training young Cambodians in highly marketable skills. Some have already graduated to training with Cirque du Soleil and circuses in Europe.

With a show every night of the week at 19:30, they now have eight different performances that rotate between the two venues, each one addressing different elements of Khmer culture, whether it be the mission to rebuild Cambodia after the destruction and horror wrought by the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian fear of ghosts, the risque world of the Phnom Penh pub scene or the challenges faced by an outcast seeking acceptance, these are thoughtful, fast-paced performances that will have you hanging on to your seat (and your tissues).

Acrobatics, shadows, The Cambodian Circus has got it all.

A fine balance of history, culture and performance.

The performances are all scripted, choreographed and scored by teachers, students and former students of the school.

Arguably more compelling than lion-tamers and clowns.

Suspense is what it’s all about.

The physical prowess of the performers is phenomenal. Sometimes they look so young, that you wonder if they really can pull it off. But they do, and the confidence that beams out of their faces as they do is one of the best parts of these shows.

The circus venue is currently in a 300-seat big top up Sivatha Boulevard and behind the Angkor National Museum to the north of the town centre. Seating is comfortable and well-spaced, rising in stepped terraces from a wide area furnished with cushions which provides a great space for children who want to be really close to the action. Every seat has an unobstructed view of the stage, but if you want to take photographs you will need a decent camera and should sit near the front as flash photography is not permitted for the safety of the performers.

You may want to leap on stage and join in about now...

But also huge amounts of sheer, unadulterated fun, as only Cambodians can.

They’ll soon be moving to a new venue near Sok San Road, which has a more secure tenure, and less noise obstruction from the occasional concerts in the field next door.

Lights, drums, cicadas and rusting trees all add to the atmosphere.

A world-class show you really can’t afford to miss.

To find out which show is on while you are in town you should contact official ticket agent Beyond Unique Escapes or visit the circus’ Facebook page. Adult tickets are $18, children under 120cm in height pay $10 and anyone under 80cm can enjoy the circus for free. If you want to sit right up front and centre, an adult ticket is $35 and child, $18. Discounted prices apply for Cambodian nationals.

The 19:30 start gives you plenty of time to get back after sunset over Angkor Wat. If you’d like to make an evening of it though, the Phare Cafe opens at 18:30 where you can enjoy a light meal and a drink or two before the show. The circus is run as a not-for-profit so all profits are re-invested in the school, and of course help pay off the loans for the big top. So if you are enthralled by the performance and want to help ensure the continued existence of the circus, donations are gratefully received.

More details
Comaille Road (behind Angkor National Museum), Siem Reap
Last updated: 15th September, 2015

About the author:
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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Phare, the Cambodian Circus
Comaille Road (behind Angkor National Museum), Siem Reap
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