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Tini Tinou circus a hit in Battambang

Residents from local communities and further afield turned out in larger-than-expected numbers to support an eclectic cast of international performers during the sixth annual event

Photo by: ANITA SUREWICZ

Creation 4B - Cambodian performers from PPS.

The usually tranquil town of Battambang was ablaze with daring feats of agile aerobatics, clowning routines and highwire acts over the weekend. Featuring more than 150 artists from 10 countries, this year's International Tini Tinou circus festival attracted record crowds.

Each evening from Thursday to Sunday, troupes from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Japan, Romania, Germany, France, Belgium, Canada and Australia entertained the public with their antics. Cambodians from surrounding villages came in droves, and their infectious laughter reverberated through the festival grounds.

This year's event focused on intercultural exchange as a stimulus for creativity and was organised by the Cambodian NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), which, along with the main circus school in Cambodia, is based in Battambang.

Extensive workshops took place at PPS headquarters in the two weeks prior to the start of the festival. Held by professional and senior artists from several countries, the workshops gave young Cambodian artists the opportunity to perfect their skills.

Cambodians from surrounding villages came in droves, and their infectious laughter reverberated through the festival grounds.

PPS headquarters sits at the end of a small dirt lane surrounded by paddocks and wooden shacks on the outskirts of Battambang, where a lot of the young Cambodian circus performers grew up and still live.

The organisation has provided a fresh start for many disenfranchised and disaffected youth in the surrounding villages, so it is not surprising that young Cambodians performers incorporate typically Cambodian stories into their routines.

Aprak & Ako, one of the most talented young professional duos representing PPS circus school, dazzled with their impressive acrobatics set against a traditional Cambodian story.

Aprak is a child tramp and veteran thief who finds an easy victim in the person of Ako, a naive tourist visiting Cambodia. Ako seeks help from the police, but the thief won't be caught that easily. Many humorous situations ensue along on the way.

And it is not surprising that the clowns were the public's favourite act. The festival was headlined by two very different clowns - a dynamic French-Cambodian duo that kept the crowd amused with their hilarious personality differences.

This year, budget concerns prompted organisers to charge an entrance fee for the first time in the festival's history, although Cambodian communities around PPS were still able to attend the performance for free.


Photo by:

ANITA SUREWICZ

Creation 4A – Cambodian performers from PPS.

Photo by:

ANITA SUREWICZ

David & Becky – the dysfunctional couple.

But the cover charge did not dissuade people from attending the festival, and event organiser and co-coordinator Dorothee Alemany said 10,000 people had attended this year's spectacle - an increase on the 6,000 in attendance last year.

If you missed the spectacle in Battambang, the PA-RA-DA foundation from Romania, National Circus of Lao and Cambodian performers Bunthoeurn, Ako & Aprak, and Samnang & Borin will be performing at the French Cultural Centre on Thursday at 7pm.

Fukuro Kouji Anita Surewicz

Name:    Fukuro Kouji

Country:     Japan

Specialty:    Clowning, mime

Minoru Inada, who goes by the stage name Fukuro Kouji, graduated from Clown College in Japan. He studied pantomime at Japan Mime Studio, worked on entertainment events and festivals in Japan, and has won prizes including the Osaka Mayer Prize at the Osaka Entertainment Festival.

How did you get involved in the circus and how long have you been training?

I did four months of formal training with American teachers in Tokyo, but really for the most part I taught myself and just started clowning at various events. I was 21 when I first started to learn, and now I am 39. So I have been performing for 18 years.

Tell me about your show at the festival

The show is called Exit Exists. In Japan, many people are homeless and my show is about finding a way to get out of the drama and the sadness. I try to show that no matter what, we all have a way to overcome our problems. This show is about a homeless person who lives around such everyday materials as plastic bottles and cardboard boxes. Clowns play with anything even under the most adverse of circumstances.

What inspires you?

I communicate with the audience through my shows. Mime and clowning is the way I express myself the best.

How is your life different to the life of a "normal" person?
I train four hours per day, three days per week. When I was young, I trained a lot more. I don't have another job, but I like to write about circus tricks. I spend most of my free time planning new shows and performances.

What have you found most interesting about performing in Cambodia?
Cambodian people are really friendly, and I have found it easy to communicate with them through my shows. They seem to understand my humour and my body language.

What do you think about the social mission of PPS?
I think that it is a very important organisation with admirable objectives of training children and getting them off the streets. I will pray that PPS does well in the future.

How is the circus in your country unique?
There is no traditional circus in Japan. It has been transplanted from other countries. I am a bit jealous that Cambodia has such an amazing circus festival.

What do you think the future holds for you?  
I will continue clowning until the day I die. I want to make people around me happy. 

Kthrin and Kristina Anita SurewiczName:    Kriskats

Country:     Germany

Specialty:    Kathrin - flying trapeze; Kristina - hula hoop

Female duo Kriskats started performing together in 1993 and since then have travelled the world with their engaging shows. Mixing highly skilled techniques with a comic aesthetic of shapes and colours, their visually stunning shows highlight the flying trapeze and the hula hoop.

How did you get involved in the circus and how long have you been training?

Kristina: We started performing as a duo 20 years ago. We both learned acrobatics at a circus school in Berlin. This was before the wall came down, and we didn't have a school where we could learn the trapeze in the Western part of the city; so we ended up going to Paris to study trapeze.

Kathrin: We met in a circus where we did odd jobs - and then we decided we wanted to do something together. The first show we did was in 1993. We first started with circus for children.

Tell me about the show you are performing at the festival.

Kristina: The show is called "Picnic in Paradise", and it mixes art and comedy. Normally, our show is a double of what you have seen with more dancing and more humour. The show had to be condensed, and the message may have gotten lost a bit because of this.

We work with poems that you wouldn't understand because they are in German. They basically say: "Pull us into another world."  We play with different scenes and different characters. We like jumping from one atmosphere to another. The performance is our fantasy of being together in different colours.

What inspires you?

Kathrin: You travel a lot and meet a lot people while you travel. It's nice to be on stage.

How is your life different to the life of a "normal" person?

Kathrin: You can choose when you work, so that's a big difference to having an 8-hour job. You have periods of working a lot,  like 14 hours per day, and then you have time off.

Kristina: It depends also if you perform. If you perform, you don't train so much.

What have you found most interesting about performing in Cambodia?

Kristina: It's completely interesting when you see something you have never seen before.

Kathrin: For me with my Western eyes, the way of life is very interesting. Circus in Cambodia is very French-style. It's quite modern. You can't compare it to traditional circus. The technique, yes, but not the style of directing. I am amazed at the high level of performance at the festival.

Kristina: It's a big gift for us to be here. It was really a pleasure to teach at the workshops here. I feel a bit sorry because I began working on things with artists here, and now I don't have the time to finish. I wish we could stay for a few more weeks.

What do you think about the social mission of PPS?

Kristina: It's a great project. It helps children by training them in acrobatics, painting and music. I think it has been a great cultural exchange. The kids are so open and eager to learn. This project presents a great chance to the kids.

How is the circus in your country unique?

Kristina:  Most of the time we worked in France [15 years] where the circus is very different to the circus in Germany. Germany has more theatre and not so much circus. In France, this kind of work receives much more support. So there is more performing groups.

Kathrin:  We came to Cambodia through our French connection. In Germany, there is not much financial support for the circus.

What do you think the future holds for you?

Kathrin: This piece [Picnic in Paradise] is really new. We have only performed it four times. We will try to sell it when we go back to Germany. It's not only one thing. We have other projects on the go back home as well.

Bunthoerun Anita Surewicz
Name:    Bunthoeurn

Country:     Cambodia

Specialty:   Balance, acrobatics

Bunthoerurn has toured the world with various performance productions. Today, he teaches at Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS), a Battambang NGO where he originally trained as a child, and performs at big events – either with his group or on his own.

How did you get involved in the circus and how long have you been training?

I didn't know anything about the circus until I saw acrobatics at PPS with my family at the age of 13. I got really excited about [the performance] and came back two or three times before I decided that I wanted to study at PPS. I am now 21, so I have been training at PPS for 8 years now.

Tell me about the show you are performing at the festival.

It is a balance show - a new number. I don't usually perform balance numbers, but this is what I like the most. So I am very happy to see the audience reacting well to my show.

This show is called Sanha. It means in Khmer "without saying", as the story is told without words.

The show is a dialogue between me and my musician friend Thom.

At the beginning, the show is about someone who is disturbed about the situation of street children in Cambodia. When he grows up, he works on a boat and beats a big drum - this represents the violence done to kids.

What inspires you?

It motivates me that training and performing is very good for my body - for keeping my body in shape and for centring all my energy on my body.

How is your life different to the life of a "normal" person?

Normally, I train six hours per day. I also get to travel a lot both within Cambodia and internationally. Since 2003, I have been in countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Algeria.

I teach at the PPS from 7am to 11am and then again from 12pm to 4pm. I usually train from 5pm to 10pm. I don't teach on weekends, but I train for 3 hours.

What makes a good circus performer?

The strength is important. At the moment, I am the only one who does the balance act. So uniqueness is also important.  

What do you think about the social mission of PPS?

When I was growing up, street kids around here had lots of problems such as drugs. I don't know where I would be without the opportunity given to me by PPS. They invited children from the neighbourhood and the border and changed their lives.

I want to tell Khmer kids and youth to find something to focus their energy on and work on because life goes by very quickly.

How is the circus in Cambodia unique?

It's pretty much the same in relation to the techniques. The difference is what inspires Cambodian performers and the stories that are typically Cambodian.

What do you think the future holds for you?

In the future, I want to keep on training and to work more with international artists.

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