RIAF Promotes Exchange With Sailor Circus

Todays News

Pictured: Chhoun Chandann guides a Sailor Circus student on a balance board. Photo by: Beth Graves.

The Ringling International Arts Festival each year grants area audiences the opportunity to explore performances from around the globe, embrace new modes of expression and perhaps even gain a greater appreciation for the underlying sameness of the human experience. One group of visiting performers this year has taken that commitment to the next step, venturing out into the artistic community for some pre-festival exchange. Phare: The Cambodian Circus, though only arrived at 2am on Tuesday morning, took time out of their afternoon the same day to visit with the Sailor Circus Academy, observe the performers and share the craft with their young artistic kin.

Phare arrived a group of eight to ten performers recognizable if not by the matching red T-shirts then by their performer’s physiques – wiry limbs roped in muscle, moving with sure-footed grace. Thirty or so students from Sailor Circus populated the mats and wires, even silks dangling from the ceiling, tumbling and twisting and balancing oh-so-precariously. A bicycle loaded down with at least four entangled bodies goes wobbling around the whole scene.

“I feel really happy to come here and I can see that this is the big school,” said Phare member Chhoun Chandann, speaking through fellow Phare performer and translator Phounam pin. Chandann, like all members of Phare, is familiar with the concept of youth circus, their school – Phare Ponleu Selpak – being founded in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge as a haven and escape for children left on the streets or in troubled homes, at risk of trafficking. The students have more materials and facilities in Sarasota, but he sees the same love for the art. “The children don’t have much time,” said Chandann of the young Sarasotan performers, making time with volunteer coaches, “but they try their best to come and learn and they look really strong.”

“It’s very exciting for the Sailor Circus students to see circus from another part of the country,” said Beth Graves, marketing manager for The Circus Arts Conservatory. In addition to the afternoon’s exchange, the Sailor Circus performers have also been invited by The Ringling Museum to see Phare’s first performance this evening on opening night. “We’re bringing circus arts together because what they do is totally different,” Graves continued. “It might stir a little creativity, maybe give [the students] some ideas of things they want to try in their own performances.”

The Ringling International Arts Festival begins tonight with performances from Phare: The Cambodian Circus, Tom Lee’s Shank’s Mare and Ronnarong Khampha.

“I’m really excited and thankful to the Ringling for inviting us to come here,” said Chandann. “We use art to transform our lives and I promise to try my best and show all my talent to the audience.”

The festival runs until Sunday, with each performance running at least once per day, except for Khampha, whose final performance is on Saturday. 

Pictured: Chhoun Chandann guides a Sailor Circus student on a balance board. Photo by: Beth Graves.

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