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The circus comes to town

A group of 13 young circus artists from the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school performs its new show, Putho!. Photograph: J F Mousseau/Phnom Penh Post

The circus is coming to Phnom Penh. But forget red-nosed clowns and dancing elephants. This troupe, which will perform once a month in a new stadium in Phnom Penh, specialises in metaphorical story-telling as well as juggling and gymnastics.

The first performance, Putho! or Oh My God, an emotional story of teenage romance told through acrobatics, will take place this Saturday, September 29, at the newly-built Beeline arena in Phnom Penh.

The show features juggling, dance, acrobatics and contortion performed by a group of 13 young circus artists from the Battambang-based art school Phare Ponleu Selpak.

The troupe will perform a different production every month at the venue, on the Chroy Changvar peninsula.

It will be the second big attraction to be staged at Beeline, which hosted the first of its monthly Khrom Boxing Competitions on Friday night.

The management says it also plans to introduce wrestling tournaments to the arena, which can seat more than 2000 people.

“Phnom Penh doesn’t have many places where parents can take their kids on weekends,” said Charles Julliard, events and marketing manager at Beeline.

“It’s all about introducing forms of entertainment that the Cambodian people haven’t seen before, like Phare Ponleu’s show,” he added.

Launched in Battambang province in the mid-1990s by a number of Cambodian refugees, the organisation now schools the country’s most disadvantaged children in variety of art forms.  

Putho! is the story of metaphorical show about romantic relationships between teenagers.

“It’s a very emotional piece about Cambodian youth,” says 21-year-old Pin Phunam, who has trained with Phare Ponleu for 11 years and is now a specialist in contortion. 

For Phunam, circus is a special kind of art.

“Circus arts teach you a lot about life. They teach me how to show my emotions and that there’s nothing in the world I cannot do.

“We tell stories using our bodies, without saying a word and our shows includes different forms of expression: we have music, dance, acrobatics, painting,” she said.

The children are taught at the  Phare art school in Battambang and some have the opportunity to undergo programs in Vietnam and France.

A life of a circus performer is a rough routine of training and rehearsals, but Phutnam says she would not swap the work for any other career.

“We train hard every day and harder with an approaching show, and  we have to take very good care of our bodies,” Phunam says.

“Sometimes I’m tired of it and want to quit, but there are always going to be problems in life,” she says, adding that she also attends an evening school to be able to find work when she grows “too old to perform.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dagmarah Mackos at



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