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OzAsia review: Phare Circus

Festivals

The appeal of Cambodia’s Phare Circus owes as much to the cheeky charm and amusing antics of its performers as it does their daring acrobatics.

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That’s not to say the physical feats aren’t impressive – they are. But a succession of clever tricks performed without personality can quickly become boring, and these young artists exude far more charisma than you’ll see in most super-slick, big-arena shows.

The male members constantly compete to win over the audience in the small Ukiyo Tent in Elder Park. Clowning, flexing muscles, flashing flirtatious grins, primping and pulling pranks, they provoke laughter and applause in equal measure.

Many members of Phare Circus come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including families struggling with poverty and domestic violence, and the audience is advised at the outset that some of their shows explore darker elements of Cambodia’s past and modern life.

However, there is little of that evident in this OzAsia performance, which is light-hearted fun from start to finish. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing theatrical trip which zooms by in a blur of colour and movement accompanied by a live score played by two talented musicians on flute, xylophone and drums, as well as a visual artist who paints three canvasses during the performance.

There are glimpses of contemporary Cambodian life, including two young women snapping selfies. Later, this same pair transform into dancers, acrobats and extremely flexible contortionists.

The acrobatic element of the show begins almost tentatively, with juggling, a unicycle and skipping (sometimes all at once). It’s not flawless, and that only adds to the thrill when the performers launch into the more dangerous acts involving human pyramids, a tightrope, tumbles, fire, balancing feats and more – all without a safety net and the knowledge that one small slip, perhaps while smoothing one’s perfectly coiffed hair, could be disastrous.

Time, and performers, fly and suddenly we’ve arrived at the finale – which feels like an exuberant, impromptu party.

Phare Circus performs nightly in Cambodia’s Siem Reap and has toured extensively across the world, but this is its first visit to Australia and the artists truly seem to revel in their performance. So, too, did the opening night audience at OzAsia, which rewarded them with a standing ovation.

It’s not high art, but it is hijinks – and highly recommended for those of any age.

Phare Circus is performing in the Ukiyo Tent in Elder Park until October 2 as part of the OzAsia Festival, but tonight and tomorrow night’s performances have been cancelled due to the severe weather expected.

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