Global Show

Circus companies from five countries performing in three Cambodian cities over 10 days.

This is what the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival is offering this month starting Thursday in Phnom Penh and ending May 16 in Battambang City.

For the second year in a row, Phare Ponleu Selpak’s circus company in Siem Reap City and training school in Battambang are joining forces with Cambodia’s National Circus School in Phnom Penh to hold this event.

Artists from the French circus company O Ultimo Momento, which will take part in the Tini Tinou festival (Milan Szypura)
Artists from the French circus company O Ultimo Momento, which will take part in the Tini Tinou festival (Milan Szypura)

Huot Dara, CEO of Phare’s circus company, said that last year’s sold out shows prompted the organizers to think bigger when planning this month’s event, inviting circus companies from Taiwan, France, Switzerland and Vietnam to participate.

“It means a lot to Cambodia because it is unique: It will be the only international circus festival held in Southeast Asia,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to brand Cambodia as an arts destination.”

Mr. Dara said he believed that this would be the only circus festival emphasizing contemporary circus, which blends theater and traditional circus, in the region.

Heidi Burchebneter of Le Papillons (The Butterflies), a Swiss company whose rhythmic gymnasts combine acrobatics with dance ranging from hip hop to ballet, said her company joined the festival after she saw Phare artists perform in Switzerland and Cambodia.

Ms. Burchebneter said she hoped their participation would help the organizers to establish the festival as an annual event.

An artist from the National Circus School performs a flying curtain-ribbon number (Anders Jiras)
An artist from the National Circus School performs a flying curtain-ribbon number (Anders Jiras)

The other international companies featured in the festival are Taiwan’s Formosa Circus Arts company, which specializes in mixing street dance styles with acrobatics and juggling; France’s O Ultimo Momento that mixes Chinese pole technique with dance and multimedia; and the Heritage Social Ho Chi Minh City company, whose performers present circus acts as well as magic tricks.

For Phok Narin, director of the National Circus School, a great deal is at stake with this festival. The circus tradition in Cambodia can be traced back more than a millennium, with circus artists appearing on seventh-century wall sculptures at the Sambor Prei Kuk site in Kompong Thom province. Yet this art form is at risk of extinction, Ms. Narin said. Only four students have enrolled this year at the circus school, in part due to a lack of job opportunities in the field, she said.

Holding this festival may help revive Cambodians’ interest in this art form and make regular circus shows possible in Phnom Penh, where occasions to perform are rare, Ms. Narin said.

Karen Chang, artistic administrator of the Formosa Circus Arts company, believes that the Tini Tinou festival may actually benefit circus in the whole region.
“An international circus festival is gonna be great,” she said in an email interview. “First, we very much agree with this idea…. Secondly, we think that Asia circus schools or companies should have more communication.”

An artist from Taiwan’s Formosa Circus Arts, which will perform during the Tini Tinou festival this month. (Hao Chang)
An artist from Taiwan’s Formosa Circus Arts, which will perform during the Tini Tinou festival this month. (Hao Chang)

For this reason, the festival will include workshops in each of the three cities so that artists from the five countries may share techniques and create relationships, Phare’s Huot Dara said.

During the festival, the National Circus School will stage the Khmer traditional tale “Preah Sothun and Neang Keo Monorea” through classic circus numbers. And Phare’s company will present “Sokha,” a contemporary circus story about a woman who survives the Khmer Rouge period, is later haunted by visions of the era’s atrocities, but manages to overcome this to start helping young people.

The festival will be held in Phnom Penh on May 7, 8 and 9 at the National Circus School’s Big Top facility across the street from the National Assembly; in Siem Reap City on May 11, 12 and 13 at the Phare circus facility behind the Angkor National Museum; and in Battambang City on May 15 and 16 at the Phare Ponleu Selpak compound.

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