I’m actually writing this on the bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh – trying to block out the Khmer version of stand up comedy currently planning on the DVD (and with a speaker right above my head!) it’s a bit like Sienfeld, a bit like Benny Hill but mostly just awful!
Back to day 16…. We’d planned a nothing day, hanging round the pool, just relaxing after our trip the day before to the temples with all the stairs. I noticed a poster on the wall of our hotel for something called Phare Ponleu Selpak - it looked interesting so I thought I might check it out. Their story deserves much more widesspread publicity so this is my way of doing that. I went for an afternoon tour and it was one of the most uplifting afternoons I’ve spent in a long time.
It all began in a refugee camp on the Thai border. A French teacher visited and gave the kids some drawing lessons in an attempt to maybe keep them occupied, and give them a means of expressing built up feelings since few of them were literate. After the end of the war, and the people in the camps were repatriated to their towns, this group of budding young artists returned to Battambang.
Keen to not let their friendship slip, they formed PPS and began drawing classes again. Realising that drawing classes alone were not enough to keep kids occupied & off the streets, one of them who had done a bit of gymnastics went to PP to do some training with a circus school. This was in 1994 and the school now has classes available in art (drawing – pencil, charcoal, pastel) painting (ink, oil, acrylic) music (traditional instruments) drama, and as an extension of the art classes, graphic design and a small but growing animation studio.
The classes are free and open to all comers. In addition, the centre now has a library (interestingly the librarian is also a social worker) a child care centre and a small live in centre for kids rescued from domestic violence or trafficking (this centre was built with a grant from UNICEF)
But the real star, and the source of most of their local income is the circus. The circus school students range in age from about 6 or 7 to 19 and it appears they ‘graduate’ to the performing troupe about 13. Music for the performance is provided by the band from the school playing both traditional instruments (like the Asian version of a xylophone) and western instruments (an elec piano and a drum kit). They were fantastic and their timing was spot-on!
There were 9 boys and one girl in the performance we saw last night. PPS is, in many ways a bit like the Flying fruit Flies or Circus Oz, all kid, lots of acrobatics, no need for language to tell the story or entertain, and plenty of slapstick. The show opened with a young fellow doing the most amazing acrobatics with a long (strong) hanging piece of cloth, swings, hanging, gymnastic moves like those iron crosses you see at the Olympics and the splits 15 feet off the ground. He then wrapped himself up and hung up above the stage as 3 ‘clowns’ came on. They were the link across all acts which included juggling, wire walking and pretty amazing feats of balance and tumbling. We also learned that slapstick, clown body language and visual innuendo has no language barriers!
I took some photos, (which was OK but please don’t use the flash – more than fair enough) but given light conditions and the limitations of my photo skills do not do anywhere near justice to the performance but, they do give you an idea of some of the things we saw.
So there you are, anyone visiting Battambang, put PPS on your ‘must do’ list, performances are Mon. Wed & Friday , tickets are $8 and the hour long show starts at 7pm. The tour round the school starts at 2pm and costs $2. There is a good brochure available – with pics, and it is handy to have this because many tuk tuk drivers don’t understand ‘circus school’ but if you show them a picture they can go straight there.
WE are now onto volume 2 of Khmer comedy DVD! I’m on the sunny side of the bus so it might be ipod time!