A Cambodian Circus
To finish up the Siem Reap leg, let me tell you about a circus we saw. It’s called Phare, and describes itself thusly.
Uniquely Cambodian. Daringly Modern. More than just a circus, Phare, the Cambodian Circus performers use theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern.
The artists are all graduates of an NGO school, which is where the proceeds from the performances go.
Phare artists are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO school and professional arts training center in Battambang, Cambodia.
Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA)
PPSA was founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the camp they took drawing classes and found art to be a powerful tool for healing. When they returned home they began offering free drawing classes to street children. Soon they opened a school, eventually offering formal K-12 education and professional arts training in the areas of visual arts (illustration, painting, graphic design, and animation), theater, music, dance, and circus. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the vocational arts training programs. All programs are offered for free.
It was a circus in the Cirque du Soleil style, I guess, though it feels like there’s got to be a better term for that since Cirque didn’t invent it. But I digress. The performers acted out the story of a young girl whose family (and homeland) was brutalized by the Khmer Rouge and later took solace in the healing power of art and the joy of teaching others. It was a bit tricky to photograph, but that didn’t stop me from trying!
I highly recommend seeing it if you have an evening in Siem Reap. It’s moving, entertaining, and for a good cause. The link’s way up at the top of this post. I recommend the A or B seating, since C is off to the sides (you can see it in the background of the pictures) and the difference is not a large number of dollars.
We then went to the Angkor National Museum, which is home to a collection of artifacts spanning the various eras of the Khmer empire. As the reviews say if you look them up, you should probably go here before you check out the Angkor complex, since it gives some helpful background. Oh well! I especially would have liked to know how to identify sculptures from the different periods. They seemed to be fairly clear-cut distinctions.
It was a cool museum, although if you’re not into (as one reviewer snidely put it) “thousands of Buddhas and Krishnas” then it might not be for you. And yes! This museum with artifacts from the world’s largest religious monument, a monument for both Hindus and Buddhists, does, indeed, contain Buddhas and Krishnas. But they’re not just splayed out in a room somewhere, there’s a decent bit of context and much of it is used to explicate the distinctions between the different kings and eras. I wish there had been more about what life was like for the million people who lived there and not just the ten or so kings, but that’s not exactly a flavor of archaeology that’s gained super widespread acceptance yet, so… yeah. It was just a thought I had.
Most unfortunately, though, they didn’t allow photographs. I mostly followed this, which is too bad because there were some really cool pieces, but I did snap a picture of a Naga carving that I really liked, as well as a piece they had at the entrance to the museum itself.
Then we had lunch and it was off to the airport for our flight to Hanoi.