Cambodian Students Set Off for World’s Top Circus School

Battambang teenagers nation’s first to study ‘cirque nouveau’ in Montreal

Over the past 15 years, several students from Phare Ponleu Sel­pak’s circus school in Battam­bang City have studied and ob­tained degrees at circus schools in France and Vietnam. But the performing arts NGO had never dared submit students to the rigorous entrance examination de­manded by what is considered the best circus school in the world.

That is, until now.

Two Cambodian students from Phare were scheduled to leave this weekend for Canada after gaining admittance to the re­nowned National Circus School of Montreal, in the heart of French-speaking Canada.

Sok Dina and Nem Sopha, 16 and 17 years old, respectively, re­cently took the school’s de­manding written exam and stage au­ditions that were shot on video in Cambo­dia and sent to the selec­tion committee in Montreal, said Xavier Go­bin, Phare’s circus administrator.

The two teenagers have been studying circus arts at the NGO for seven years and have performed abroad: Dina in Brunei a few months ago and Sopha in Germany last year.

Since Dina and Sopha have yet to complete secondary school, they will first attend the circus school’s regular high school before they enter the circus arts university program.

At the university, they will be studying “cirque nouveau,” or new circus. This form of circus ap­peared in France in the 1970s when ar­tists decided, Mr Gobin said, “to turn circus into shows that, while entertaining, would be more poetic and artistic…involving scripts and performances with themes and actual characters rather than strictly being technical feats.”

In the mid-1980s, French-Cana­dian artists launched the now world-renowned circus company Cirque du Soleil and took cirque nouveau to new heights using the highest caliber of artists, spectacular costumes and decors, and striking music, Mr Gobin said.

Cirque du Soleil’s world-touring megashows have revived circus arts and raised their popularity among the general public.

“We are really transported into imaginary worlds with the Cirque du Soleil,” Mr Gobin said.

The Montreal circus school opened in the late 1980s and has been operating in cooperation with Cirque du Soleil with whom they share some training facilities.

Attending the school will likely open the door to an international circus career for these two exceptionally talented Cambodian students, Mr Gobin said.

Both Dina and Sopha plan to share with Battambang circus students what they will learn over the next two to three years. Al­though thrilled to go to Montreal, they are not leaving without apprehension.

“One of my biggest concerns is the weather,” Mr Dina said. “I think I can adapt to living in Montreal and to the food but I don’t know whether I can bear cold weather.”

And Montreal winters are cold indeed.

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