Circus, Music Show Launch Cambodia’s First Proper Big Top

What is believed to be Cambodia’s only proper circus tent was inaugurated Tuesday night with a music and circus show that attracted about 500 people to a circus school on the outskirts of Battambang town.

All white on the outside with a black and midnight blue interior, the 8.2-meter-tall tent was purchased for the circus school of the performing arts NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak using funds provided in part by the French Embassy.

The structure was designed by Phare with the aid of Collectif clowns d’ailleurs et d’ici—or the Clowns from Here and There Collective—to develop ways for the NGO to financially support its activities, said Jean-Cristophe Sidoit, technical adviser to the organization.

The circus tent, consisting of a ring with spectators on three sides and a metal cupola sturdy enough to support trapezes and ropes, replaces a worn-down, 23-year-old tent the circus school had acquired through a donation five years ago, school director Khuon Det said.

But there is much more to a circus tent than meets the eye, Sidoit added.

“Setting up a tent requires a specific know-how, which cannot be improvised,” he said.

This is why a new tent, Sidoit said, “is a really big event. It’s also a major investment.”

The material for the new tent needed to be thick enough to keep out the heat of day for practice, and for students and Phare’s professional circus performers, who have toured internationally, to hold shows during both the rainy and dry seasons, Khuon Det said.

The canvas for the roof had to be fireproofed, then cut to specific measurements and sewn by hand by a specialized firm, Gourmac, in France. The roof alone cost nearly $30,000 of the $45,000 budget for the tent, Sidoit said.

The canvas for the cupola and side panels, shipped by container from France, weighed about 1 ton and took more than 40 people to unroll before workers could start cutting, said Stephane Dupre, co-founder of the circus art school Bal­thazar in France, who volunteered to help set up the tent. The material was donated by La Cie les Arts Sauts, one of Europe’s most famous trapeze artist companies.

The metal frame from the old tent was used for its replacement, and it took Dupre and a Phare team three weeks of hard work to rebuild the structure and raise the tent, he said.

“Phare’s technical team was su­per,” Dupre said. But some equipment was just not available in Cambodia, which made the work take longer, he added.

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