Circus Troupe Set for Coast-to-Coast US Tour

A group of performers from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s circus company are due to leave the country Sunday for the organization’s first ever tour in the U.S.

“This came about very unexpectedly,” said Huot Dara, the company’s chief executive, explaining that the troupe was contacted by the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, Florida. 

Nem Sothea performs in 'Khmer Metal.' (Peter Phoeng)
Nem Sothea performs in ‘Khmer Metal.’ (Peter Phoeng)

“They will soon inaugurate an Asian art center at the Ringling Museum and, to mark the occasion, have asked artists from five Asian countries to perform,” Mr. Dara said.

“Since we were invited by such a prestigious organization…we had to capitalize on this opportunity,” he said, so Phare has scheduled a coast-to-coast tour of the U.S.

The Ringling Museum was started in the 1920s by John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers Circus, which promoted itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Now part of Florida State University, the museum will open a center for Asian art early next year to add to its circus and art museums.

Several events are being held in anticipation of the opening, Stev­en High, the museum’s executive director, explains in a message on the museum’s website.

“In October, we will launch the seventh season of the Ringling International Arts Festival, which will feature seven genre-defying productions that represent the dynamism of contemporary performing artists across Asia,” he writes.

Pin Phounam is held up by fellow performers in 'Khmer Metal.' (Peter Phoeng)
Pin Phounam is held up by fellow performers in ‘Khmer Metal.’ (Peter Phoeng)

These will include artists from China, Indonesia, Japan and Thai­land, Phare being the only circus company invited.

In mid-October, Phare will present “Khmer Metal,” a very contemporary show set in a rock-mu­sic bar, which combines dance, music and circus acts to address urban life in modern Cambodia.

Apart from being well-suited for an international audience, the one-hour show only requires a small cast and crew, Mr. Dara said. The company will travel with six circus artists, three musicians and four support staff, he said.

These artists have performed several times in Europe and Asia but never in the U.S., Mr. Dara said. “They are really thrilled,” he said.

The company will literally travel from coast to coast. The first performance on September 20 is in Long Beach, California—home to the largest Cambodian community in the U.S.—and the last one on October 30 in Arlington, Virginia.

“Phare, The Cambodian Circus” was launched in Siem Reap City to provide work for artists who trained at Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang City, an organization that provides free arts and circus training for Cambodians of poor neighborhoods.

Being a social enterprise with a strained budget, the U.S. tour has been made possible by support from the the Ringling International Arts Festival along with Cambodian-American families who have offered to host the company, Mr. Dara said.

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