Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA) is a not-for-profit organisation in Battambang, Cambodia, working to improve the lives of children, young people and their families.
The performing arts school trains young adults in circus, dance, music and theatre skills helping them to become professional performers.
You can watch their performances in Battambang or Siem Reap in Cambodia, or if you’re lucky enough, you might catch them on one of their European tours.
We went to see them in Battambang. The tickets were $14 each and widely available in the town. We bought them from the same ticket agency that had sold us our bus tickets to Phnom Penh, called Mekong Express.
The ‘big top’ was a little out of town, down some country roads. I had never been to the circus before and was really looking forward to it. I was pleased that there were no animals at this circus.
Before you went in, there was an exhibition of artwork by the students to look at. There is a small café selling snacks and drinks. The prices were a little high, but it’s all for a good cause. The venue is open to the elements so make sure that you wear insect repellent!
The performance started at 7pm. There were plenty of seats and as it is a small venue, all the seats had a good view of the performance area. We sat at the back, which was quite cool, although there were quite a few insects circling around and we both got bitten. The director of the charity spoke a little about the charity and how it worked and the performance started with some traditional Khmer dancing.
Then the fun really began! The performance, entitled ‘Phumstyle’ told the story of a man who returns to his rural village after living in the big city. There was a fantastic opening sequence of the characters waking up in the village, performing acrobatics. There was a tiny woman there who supported a man doing handstands on her; you wouldn’t have thought she would be strong enough to hold his weight. She had an ear-piercing shriek which she used for comic effect to scold the lazy men and get them out of bed.
One of the highlights was a funny, juggling scene using hats. The juggling throughout the show was very impressive, particularly when they used fire. There were quite a few times when there were three or four men juggling together, switching sides and there were countless batons in the air. The woman gave a spectacular performance on the trapeze and some amazing gymnastic sequences. As a finale, one man performed an incredible balancing act on blocks and cylinders which defied belief.
The students at Battambang are trainees but honestly, there were very few slips in the whole performance. The music was lively and the beams on the performer’s faces kept the audience with them throughout the whole show. It was certainly worth the admission fee, and more besides.
I’m so glad we got to see the circus in Battambang. There’s not much else to see and do in the town but this trip made it worth the visit. If we had had the time, we would probably have gone back again.
Find out more about Phare circus as https://phareps.org/