Circus Games
By: Ann Creevey ( Jul - Aug, 2001 Volume 1 No.3 )

In the sixties, Nuth Samony was one of Cambodia's greatest dancers. He was so outstanding that he was sent to Moscow, Russia for five years from 1966 to study at the Grand Theatre. Then the Pol Pot regime came, and most of his friends and colleagues were killed. When he returned to the University of Fine Arts after 1979, there were very few dancers who returned with him. There were even fewer teachers left. "So they said to me, why not change and teach circus?" he said. Today Mr. Nuth Samony is Director of the National Circus School at the Royal University of Fine Arts.
He said he saw circus as a new beginning _ a precious piece of Khmer culture being revived out of destruction. "Before 1980 there had been no real circus in Cambodia for hundreds of years," he said. "We know it is our heritage because circus is carved on the walls at Angkor, but it was no longer something every Cambodian knew was their culture, even before Pol Pot. It had been forgotten. After 1980, circus had a second birth." In 1981 he went to Moscow again for five more years, this time to learn the tricks of the circus trade. "Because circus here had not been alive before, we had to take some things from European circus, and Vietnam," he said. "But the execution is Khmer. Khmer blood is the blood of art.

Circus is our heritage. The students are here because they want to be artists." A Khmer circus performer will undergo nine years of training on their way to a diploma in circus. They start learning from as young as nine. "But they have trouble progressing. Possibilities to perform in Cambodia are scarce. If we go to the provinces, people line the boulevards to see us. But when we sell tickets, no one will come." There are 67 students including 25 girls at Mr Nuth Samony's school at the moment, training to continue the tradition depicted on the walls of Bayon Temple. Mrs. Mala Hang Phuong is one of the staff who share Mr Nuth Samony's passion. She trains jugglers. At 37, she has been doing this job for 10 years. She makes US$25 a month. Mr Nuth Samony calls her a member of the first generation _ the generation he helped to grow from the second birth, in his second life as an artist.

Today two of her juggling protégés are taking exams to advance to the final three years of their diploma. She watched them critically and spoke as they finish their act. The career is not a lucrative one, she said. She knows that all too well. But that isn't the point. "People love circus," she said. "I think students come to learn for love. They know it is their heritage." * The Khmer Circus performs on July 15 and 16 from 6 pm at the Theater Hall of the Royal University of Fine Arts, on Street 70, next to the Old Stadium.