Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia in The Nikkei Asian Review

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia – Creative training offers an alternative lifestyle for young performers

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — It is a stiflingly hot Friday evening in Siem Reap, western Cambodia. The big top is packed, and there is an air of excitement as 300 or so spectators squeeze onto narrow wooden benches. Backstage, the artists are getting ready.

The lights dim, and the audience falls silent. Traditional Khmer music emanates from the darkness. A blue light appears above the performance area as 12 actors kneel in a circle, ready to launch into “Eclipse,” a highly physical and beautifully performed reflection on Cambodian village life, rejection and the gods. Seconds later, bodies glide and fly through the air in gravity-defying stunts that are a mixture of spectacle and narrative.

As Cambodia continues to wrestle with its tragic history and current dysfunctional governance — mass bombing by the U.S. in the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge communist revolution and genocide in the 1970s, civil war in the 1980s and 1990s and subsequent political dominance by authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen — foreign acclaim for the impoverished Southeast Asian kingdom has been rare…

My latest article with Laure Siegel in The Nikkei Asian Review.

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