You may not see elephants doing handstands or dogs jumping through hoops in the circus of Phare Ponleu Selpak, but what you will witness is the spectacular phenomenon that is social circus.
Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) is a non-profit social center and art school
in Battambang, Cambodia. Translated as “the brightness of the arts,” the
center, created by former Khmer refugees in 1986, offers training in
fine and performing arts to disadvantaged youths with the core belief
that art is a powerful tool for societal impact and the enhancement of well-being.
The floor of the tent is much larger than it looked like it could possibly be from the outside. But as you enter, and move to haunt the outskirts near the canvas, to stand around the outer limits of the smooth, black circle that fills the tent, a single acrobat rolls her way out into the spotlight (where is that light emanating from? You cannot see a stagehand in the rafters…in fact, you cannot see any rafters…).
Switching around, rolling, spinning, gyrating, flip-flopping, she twists her body into fantastic knots and unbelievable poses, all while controlling her gigantic, argent cylinder. Now she is standing atop it, balancing on one hand. Now she is suspended in its center, her makeup-painted limbs becoming the shimmering, jewel-encrusted spokes of a silver wheel. Now she is riding the very edge of it, twisting around in such a way that she somehow manages to keep it upright, despite the fact that it is balancing on a point no bigger than a thimble. And through it all, she is moving so fast that she cannot possibly know which way is up.
Her name is Arianrhod, and she is the Lady of the Silver Wheel.