With a madcap show featuring uproarious acrobatics accompanied by raucous music, Phare could be described as Cambodia’s answer to Cirque du Soleil, and not long ago it was playing to packed houses in the town of Siem Reap night after night.
All the performers have a story to tell. Drawn from among the country’s beggars, orphans, victims of human trafficking, and drug addicts, they have developed skills and found new purpose in life. Phare has also been the prime source of funding for 1,200 students at an arts school – Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) – in the city of Battambang.
Early this year, however, the coronavirus pandemic struck and the Cambodian government put travel restrictions in place. As tourist arrivals slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether, the audiences stopped coming, and Phare found itself teetering.
“Tourism to Cambodia has vanished, which is devastating for people whose livelihood depends on it, says Khuon Chanreaksmey, deputy director of PPS.
“The PPS school receives over half its annual budget of US$1 million from Phare circus. The circus depends on visitors to Cambodia. The longer this continues, the harder it becomes for the circus to cover costs, pay salaries and support the school.”
When the circus is running according to its regular schedule, Phare’s nightly extravaganzas are an enthralling mix of skill and daring, performed to a cacophony of live music played on instruments ranging from traditional Cambodian gongs to electric guitars…
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