Makara Vin always wanted to become a dancer. When he was aged seven, he moved to Battambang to pursue an education in the arts and to train under experienced teachers.
In Battambang he met one teacher who was in a circus act. He soon left behind the dream of professional dancing for a life in the big top.
Circuses have played an important role in Cambodian culture and art, but the survival of the tradition depends on the renewed interest of would-be trainees like Vin.
Ouk Socheat, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art, said there had been circuses in Cambodia for hundreds of years, but only recently had new acts begun to spring up to fill the gap left by decades of conflict.
“Circuses went silent for a long time. But if people are picking it up again now, I will be happy to see this again,” he said.
Phare, a Cambodian circus troop that employs people from difficult social and economic backgrounds, has trained performers and organized festivals to promote circus culture for over 10 years.
This year, it is holding the Tiny Tinou Circus International Festival in Phnom Penh from April 28 to April 30 at the Chenla Theatre; Battambang from May 3 to May 6 at Phare Ponleu Selpak; and in Siem Reap from May 8 to May 10 at Phare, the Cambodian Circus.
Aneka Rao, spokesperson for Phare, said it hoped festivals such as this would help re-popularize the circus among Cambodians.
“It is very inspiring to watch. There will be a mix of cultural performances, so audiences can experience what it’s like to live in different cultures,” Rao said.
Artists from other countries will also be attending.
“We want artists from all over the world to exchange ideas and see how Cambodia does the circus. We also want them to create something new. The international and national artists will stay together to share their skills, learn from each other and create a new show for the audience.”
Rom Rachana, 28, who saw Phare twice last year, said the shows were enjoyable and “eye catching”.
“Those people who’ve never seen it, they don’t know how amazing it is when Cambodian and foreign artists perform together. It’s much better than watching it on television,” he said.
However, Rachana added, few people were aware of the circus and when shows were on.
More than 800 international artists have come from dozens of different countries to join the Tiny Tinou festival this year.
Kheang Meng, 19, a student at Northbridge International School, said he’d stumbled across the circus by accident and was expecting a good show.
“I’ve only seen stage shows before, such as plays. But I’ve heard the circus is completely different. There are lots of dynamics and thrills. That’s what I’m expecting to see.
Makara, the circus performer, is hoping the art receives more state support.
“I want governments to think more about circuses and art. I want it to be widely known, like circuses are in foreign countries. I want the government to help create more working opportunities.”