Having suffered through an extended shutdown period due to Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings and performances, Cambodian circus Phare has officially reopened with shows just as lively and creative as ever before.
Phare Circus Rising is a special programme marking their return to the stage and is being performed on Fridays and Saturdays at 7pm. Guests can arrive as early as 5pm to order food and drink from the Phare Cafe, including delicious Cambodian street food items for as little as 4,000 riel.
Phare Circus was founded on February 8, 2013, and they’ve just celebrated their 9th anniversary. Phare Cafe and Phare Boutique are an integral part of the evening experience and were both opened around the same time.
The full experience they offer to tourists is open once again with shopping, dining and their live show at their circus venue, a red big top made from recycled plastic bottles and illuminated with colourful lights.
“The venue opens two hours prior to the main performance with shopping available in Phare Boutique and food and drink available in Phare Cafe which is located between Phare Boutique and the big top. Guests choose from a variety of Cambodian street food favourites prepared by different local chefs. The bar serves beer, wine, cocktails and soft drinks,” Craig Dodge, director of sales and marketing at Phare, tells The Post.
At the newly redesigned Phare Boutique people can enjoy shopping for extraordinary souvenirs and Phare t-shirts and polo shirts with original artwork from Phare’s visual artists.
“It’s a magical experience dining under the colourful lights of the Phare Circus big top. Grab a table and enjoy dinner and drinks with free pre-show performances. Guests are welcome to enjoy dinner and drinks at Phare Cafe without attending a show,” Dodge says.
Phare Cafe and Phare Boutique gift shop are open before and after the show but no entrance is permitted after the performance has started, for the safety of the artists and comfort of other guests.
In addition to shopping and dining, there are a variety of things happening before the show. Phare artists do some pop-up performances around the arrival area and the cafe to warm-up the crowd, visiting artist groups such as the MEDHA drummers do brief performances and guests can get into traditional costumes and make-up for photos.
“Then it’s time for the main event of your evening entertainment, Phare, the Cambodian Circus. A smile automatically comes to your face as you find a seat in the traditional, authentic, circular big top. Maybe you’re thinking it will be like a circus you went to during your childhood, but guaranteed, this will be a unique experience,” Dodge says.
After almost a decade of blood, sweat and tears training, the performers at Phare Circus are among the best of the best at what they do ensuring that tourists always enjoy their shows which always highlight voices from Cambodian culture. During the hour-long shows, the Phare performers share their emotions and excitement, blowing the audience away with spectacular beauty and power.
“They tell uniquely Cambodian tales using modern circus arts and high energy music, touching on themes strong in Cambodian tradition, ethos and spirit. The performances mix theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling, aerial acts, fire and contortion with an explosion of virtuosity and sensitivity,” says Dodge.
Phare’s live shows are inspired by the real-life experiences of its creators and performers and deal with themes such as war, discrimination, relationships, poverty and even ghosts. Some performances contain smoke, loud noises, music and strobe lights. Therefore, Dodge says audiences should consult with a member of the ticketing staff if they have any concerns or if they have very young children.
“You can expect the unexpected. The music, acting, acrobatics and high-energy music will captivate you. At the end, the artists welcome you on stage for a chat or group photos,” Dodge says.
Weekly shows are currently only on Friday and Saturday. Additional days will be added as demand increases. As international travel resumes, the American director of sales and marketing says they expect to have shows nightly – perhaps by November – but it’s difficult to predict.
Exclusive private performances can also be booked. For example, the US embassy engaged Phare for an event on February 9.
There is also special pricing while tourism slowly resumes. Preferred seating is $20 for adults and $10 for children under 12. Open seating is $10 for adults and free for children under 12. The pre-pandemic three-tiered seat pricing will likely return later this year.
“By attending a Phare Circus show, you enjoy Siem Reap’s best live performance, become a part of the revival of Cambodian arts, financially support the school and provide good jobs for aspiring and experienced Cambodian performing artists,” Dodge says.
Phare is one of Cambodia’s most innovative social enterprise models. Profits generated through tickets, refreshments, merchandise and private performances support the free education, professional arts training and social support programmes of Phare Ponleu Selpak art school in Battambang.
“The performers come from unimaginably difficult social and economic backgrounds. They discover and develop their skills at the Phare Ponleu Selpak non-profit school. They are able to earn a good living and transform their lives at Phare Circus, breaking the cycle of poverty. Revenue generated at Phare Circus funds the free education and social programmes of the school,” says Dodge.
The February schedule currently has three shows:
Khmer Metal – which is about the owner of a grungy Phnom Penh rock bar and his brother seeking profits as customers seek adventure, passion and love in all the wrong places.
Same Same – but Different has Phare artists sharing their own unique take on cultural differences and poking good-natured fun at themselves and others.
Eclipse is about how far someone would go to fight back against rejection and bullying and to gain community acceptance. Based on traditional Cambodian folktales, Eclipse is a story of rejection, revenge, spirit possession and eventual forgiveness.
The performances over the past few weeks have averaged around 60-80 people per night, Dodge says, but before the pandemic the big top would normally be full with 300-400 people at every show.
“Phare Circus is not just the best live performance in town – it’s a complete evening experience at a great price. It’s early enough for families with children but also good for others who want to start their evening at Phare before going to Pub Street or clubs. It’s pure Cambodia,” Dodge adds.
Phare Circus is located on the Siem Reap Ring Road just south of the intersection with Sok San Road.
For more information visit them on Facebook: @PhareCircus