The Cambodian Circus

Circuses has been around for thousands of years. As far back as ancient Greece and Rome, people have been entertained by live acts – both human and animal. If you were to travel back in time, however, I’m not sure you’d recognize a circus if you saw one!

Ancient circuses were where fierce chariot races, theatrical reenactments, bloody gladiator games, and violent animal battles entertained the public. The ancient circus was not for the faint of heart. More like a stadium than today’s circus ring, ancient circuses were commonly rectangular buildings with semi-circle ends. For example, the Circus Maximus (the first circus in ancient Rome), was about 1,300 feet long, 300 feet wide and could seat 250,000 people! It had started out as a smaller wooden structure, but eventually was rebuilt in those proportions in stone. It’s difficult to even imagine that today’s crumbling ancient ruins were once home to such elaborate spectacles and massive crowds. If a person from present-time wandered into an ancient circus, they’d probably feel pretty amazed… not to mention terrified!

Modern circuses still inspire awe – they’re just a tad tamer. The modern circus is really defined by the ring – that circle of space surrounded by the audience, commanded by performers, where the magic happens. The ring idea came about in 1768, when a performing stunt rider, named Philip Astley, determined the smallest possible circumference that allowed him to comfortably ride his horse in a circle, standing up on it’s back – a staple trick of any equestrian/human performance! He built what he called an amphitheatre (an open-air building) in London, with a 42 foot diameter ring in the center, and opened for business. Over the next couple of years, Astley figure out that he had to hire supporting acts to entertain his audience in between rides – and so the modern circus performance pattern, of alternating clowns, acrobats and jugglers, and other performers, was born. Since then, circuses have expanded on these standards, and evolved into many different artistic styles. One incredible example of this, is the Phare Cambodian Circus.

You won’t see any circus animals or elaborate props – this circus is all about human talent and raw storytelling. The troupe uses a combination of theater, music, dance and circus arts to tell Cambodian stories. Each performer, artist and musician is a graduate of the Phare School. They all come from extremely challenging backgrounds and have dedicated unimaginable time and effort to master their art and gain an education. From the second the lights go down, and the music starts, they take you skillfully through an awesome and electric Cambodian journey. Sitting in the stands, it’s impossible to imagine that anything – even gladiators and chariot racing – could be more exciting.