The Cambodian Circus


I know it sounds odd, but really, it’s a thing! And I my eyes couldn’t wander that far into the Sunday Arts section of the Sarasota Herald Tribune without recognizing the Cambodian town of Siem Reap, home base to Phare, the Cambodian Circus, as where my daughter had said she was in her text just an hour before I’d made coffee and gathered my paper from the driveway.

I love a good coincidence, so did some Googling and bought tickets. Texted my daughter as such and that she should check out their red tent in Siem Reap. Although they were on world tour so she probably wouldn’t see what I would see in two weeks.

The day of the show, last Saturday, my daughter posted her blog about her time in Cambodia. You can read the full blog here, please do, but if you don’t, here are two of the most moving and sad excerpts which wrestled a few tears from me.

The roads in Cambodia stretch out like a wound through deep green rice fields. The earth, unpaved, is dried-blood red. Emaciated white cows dot the land, symbols of past wealth, memories that Cambodians can only exploit instead of grabbing hold.


Children eat sweets, their teeth rot, and don’t understand the concept of junk food, because food of any kind is a luxury.

I was eager to see the show, having read that Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), a nonprofit formed in 1994, opened a school for the visual and performing arts, and rescued disadvantaged children from the street, troubled homes and trafficking by providing free food, education, training and jobs.

Truly awesome, yes?

And now I was going to see their performance!

But first a meal. Uh oh. Yes, another disappointing meal in Sarasota, which I won’t go into great detail here, but Asian food was the way to go and hubby and I each had a plate of bland mush passed off as Pad Thai at Painters Palette. The place was all good atmosphere and nice service but I knew when we had our eight-dollar duck spring rolls fried in old grease that we were doomed. A four dollar oily tube of meat…then the Pad Thai mush placed in front of us. Maybe they need to mix some new paints at Painters Palette. Anyway, I’m used to dropping a fifty on mediocre, so off to the show we went.

Sitting in our seats in the beautiful Asolo Theater, reading about the show–Khmer Metal — in the program, and studying the stage set of a dim-lit bar and lounge, I tried to imagine what we were in store for.

“With a mix of humor, drama, heart-pounding rock music and breathtaking acrobatics and circus acts, Khmer Metal turns social convention on its head and gives the audience a glimpse of the wilder side of urban Cambodia.”

Oh, please start, I want to see!

Finally, the lights go down and the grungy bar set lights up. Light amusement at first, a drunken man draped over a chair comes to slovenly life and starts some stumbling acrobatics and juggling while the bar owner wiping glasses the behind the bar chases him off. Other patrons come in, each with their own dynamic. All faces are full of expression and I easily tag barfly stereotypes in my mind: the hipster couple, the all-about-me-guy, the shyster, each given the stage to individually showcase their acrobatic, juggling and contortionist talents before pairing off with others, in true drunken bar camaraderie ––each with their own agenda. As a backdrop, a girl plays a booming base, a guy shreds guitar licks and two girls play xylophone, to give the whole crazy scene an Asian authenticity.

The acrobatics ramp up; the stunts get more challenging and elaborate. The contortionist girl makes me squirm. I love all the characters, especially knowing they were once street kids and have trained for nine years to get the opportunity to tour. They are truly having fun! The audience finally gets with it (Sarasota, you know) and they clap and holler with me and hubby and may all be at the edge of their seats like hubby and I are. It’s the most entertaining hour of my life. I don’t want it to end.

It ends. I’m exhausted and happy. The announcer says the performers are going to be in the lobby. I leave hubby in the dust gripping my phone camera. The smallest acrobat, who was always at the top of the human towers, busts into the lobby first. He’s sweaty and smiling and eager for praise. I hug him and a picture is snapped. I want to adopt him!


Next I see the contortionist girl, overhear her saying she’s 24 and has been training since she was 11. (I later read her name is Phunam and as a child her violent father forced her to work collecting garbage. She was always hungry so went to the school for the cookies the teachers gave out for free) A picture is arranged with her and the bar-back acrobat of the wonderful smile. I want to adopt them too!


We leave. I am so overwhelmed I start to cry. I do this sometimes when I am wordless about my feelings. But I am not wordless, not really. I’m thinking: why can’t Americans  save our disadvantaged children in inner cities? Cambodia’s history is appalling, with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge enforcing genocide, social engineering, famine, torture, forced labor and isolation of their people. Then six refugees  fought back by creating this art-circus-performance school which saves youth from starvation and the streets. We Americans are actually REMOVING arts from our schools! And what about all those people who give their time and money to “save the animals” when there are children who need to be saved? Huh? This is why I cried after the show.

Maybe we could take a lesson?

Links and information:

Phare Website:

CNN Review:

US Tour 2015: (A must see show if they are in your area)

You Tube video:




2 responses to “The Cambodian Circus

  1. Oh my pleasure, Aneka, spread it all around, I want everybody to know what a magnificent experience Phare is!


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