BANGKOK–As tightrope walkers make their balancing act on high wire and a contortionist aims an arrow and blows up a balloon using only her feet, audiences are left gasping.
But while they may be doing ordinary circus tricks, the Cambodian members of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) are no ordinary performers.
They are social performers, says PPS artistic director Khuon Det.
For him, circus is a good medium for social advocacy. Cambodians love circus so wherever PPS goes, the group attracts huge crowds, he says.
“We entertain but at the same time we impart important social messages,” Khuon Det says shortly before his group performs in a packed Patravadi Theatre in Bangkok .
In “Distant Haze”, PPS uses the spectacle of circus and dance drama to retell the horror of the Khmer Rouge regime that left about two million Cambodians dead.
For about an hour, PPS members juggle objects resembling unexploded ordnance left behind during the carpet bombing of Cambodia . They cross a high wire, sans balancing poles, to portray people’s frantic escape from the five-year brutal rule.
A delicate balance of form and content is needed to turn the spectacles into captivating social performance pieces.
The social advocacy aspect is Khuon Chanreaksmey’s primary job as a social awareness manager of the group.
To better enhance both aesthetics and content, PPS joined the PETA Mekong Partnership Program in 2005. Established in September 2004, the Program facilitates cross-border exchange, capacity building, and partnership among the Mekong performing arts communities.
“It’s a good thing we have joined PETA,” says Khuon Det. “We learned a lot from PETA, both on social issues and techniques how to create a story.”
“Distant Haze” is a product of the two-week 5th Mekong Performing Arts Laboratory 2010 conducted by PETA Mekong Partnership Program in September, says its managing director Lea Espallardo.
This year’s Laboratory focused on story building with child protection as its theme, Espallardo, a native of Calapan City, adds.
The Bangkok public performance serves as closing stages of the Laboratory and features other participating groups from Laos , Myanmar ( Burma ), and Thailand .
After the show on October 25, the social circus artists returned to Cambodia with a new performance piece that will surely leave audiences awed and clued up.