If you’re a fan of circus, then you know that one of the biggest circus festivals in Southeast Asia is returning this year to Battambang, Cambodia: the Tini Tinou International Circus Festival.

In preparation for the 12th edition of Tini Tinou, circus artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak (and Phare, The Cambodian Circus) have been collaborating with a circus troupe from South Korea on a new performance. The international artist exchange has been ongoing in the second half of 2023 and includes 11 circus performers: six from Cambodia and five from Korea.

Let’s take a closer look at what they’ve been up to.

Korean circus performers visit Phare Ponleu Selpak for a cultural exchange

Photo Credit: KHUON Det

The Growing Ties between Korea and Phare Ponleu Selpak

Over the past few years, there’s been a growing network of relationships and connections between Phare Ponleu Selpak and South Korean artists, performers, and volunteers

These international bonds have grown and strengthened through a number of cultural and artistic exchanges, training workshops, and other contributions over the past few years. For example in 2016, students and alumni from Phare Performing Arts School put on a show at the Ansan Street Arts Festival, the largest street arts festival in South Korea. 

In addition, Phare students and staff have frequently traveled to Korea as part of conferences, trainings, professional development workshops, and other international exchanges. 

The 2023 ASEAN-KOREA Cooperation Project for Innovative Culture

The most recent Cambodia-Korea artist exchange was funded by the 2023 ASEAN-KOREA Cooperation Project for Innovative Culture, an initiative organized by the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE)

With guidance from the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST), the ASEAN-KOREA project promotes international artistic exchanges and collaborations between Korea and ASEAN nations. The project attempts to redefine the meaning of “innovation” in the context of arts and culture by exploring how it contributes to both Korean and ASEAN society.

As part of the wider ASEAN-KOREA project, FORCE circus troupe based in Seoul reached out to Phare Ponleu Selpak to collaborate on a special show for Tini Tinou Circus Festival. Funding from the project allowed Phare students and alumni to travel to South Korea, and for the Korean artists to visit Battambang a few months later.

Circus rehearsal with Korean and Cambodian performers

Photo Credit: Olivia AUDO

About FORCE Circus Troupe 

FORCE is a circus and performing arts group established in 2016 with the purpose of contributing to and improving the quality of human life through global arts and culture. Through cultural exchanges, FORCE hopes to expand the arts into undiscovered territory by tapping deeper into nature, life, and the human imagination. Currently, the group is reexamining the infinite possibilities of modern techniques and the unique value of circus through diverse fusion and creation.

From Battambang to Seoul and Back Again: How These 2 Troupes Collaborated

Over a few months, 11 participants – six from Phare Ponleu Selpak and five from FORCE – got to engage with, explore, and experience the circus arts of each nation. 

From 27 September to 7 October 2023, the troupe of Phare students and alumni visited the Seoul Street Arts Creation Center (SSACC) in Seoul, South Korea, watching various performances from Korean artists throughout their 10-day visit. In turn, the Phare delegation conducted a circus workshop for FORCE, and the two groups had an opportunity to rehearse together. 

Later on, the five Korean circus performers made a three-day visit to Phare Ponleu Selpak from 4 to 6 November 2023. The FORCE delegation gained insight into Phare’s professional circus curriculum and educational facilities – something FORCE may eventually implement in Korea. 

Through workshops and research during the artist exchange program, every participant learned things about the other nation that they were previously unaware of. The exchange allowed each artist to experience aspects of the other culture that they hadn’t encountered before – deepening their artistic practice and strengthening ties between each nation. 

Learn about a Cambodia-Korea performing artist exchange and the circus show they’re making together

Photo Credit: Olivia AUDO

What Participants Had to Say about the Exchange

Circus artists on both sides were richer because of the international exchange experience. 

“I learned a lot from their performances and unique techniques,” said SREY Chan Rachana, a circus artist from Phare Ponleu Selpak. “The performances featuring traditional dances showed the exquisite and priceless Korean culture and art. The people there are friendly, the school uses new and modern materials, and the performances are unique in ways I have never seen before. We also shared our rehearsal techniques, performances, arts, and cultures, and tourist attractions in Cambodia.”

South Korean circus performers at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Photo Credit: FORCE-ARTECH

After visiting and participating in the exchange program, KHUON Det, Co-Founder of Phare Ponleu Selpak and Director of Phare Performing Arts School, had a few thoughts to share.

“International exchange programs are essential to the Phare Performing Arts School and artists so that they can show their ability and also learn from other experiences and expertise as well as gain knowledge about and appreciate one another’s arts and cultures,” said Det. “It is ideal for future collaboration to enhance and spread information from one side to another. Exchange programs help artists develop their knowledge and awareness of professionalism, leadership, and a variety of other subjects. We learn new techniques, methods, or possibilities to see how their work develops and is completed, then apply that knowledge to reflect on and fill in the gaps in our work.”

Phare Ponleu Selpak circus artists in Seoul, South Korea

Photo Credit: FORCE-ARTECH

One of the Korean circus artists also shared about his first experience working in Cambodia.

“I learned hand-to-hand acrobatics from the exchange program, and I was excited to be able to work cheerfully with a smile even if the language, cultural background, and environment were different,” said TONGHYUN Cha, a circus artist from FORCE. “Even if we are from different nations, I felt that we could unite with the same goal. It was a really meaningful and unforgettable experience. I hope this program continues for a long time.”

Dance and performing arts in South Korea

Photo Credit: FORCE-ARTECH

What You Can Look Forward to at Tini Tinou International Circus Festival

As a result of this Korea-Cambodia circus exchange program, the two troupes are creating a co-production called “Handshake.” Why a handshake?

A handshake is a gesture of greeting, friendship, trust, and goodwill. When we meet someone new, we shake hands as a form of greeting, and this starts to break down barriers of mistrust. A handshake also shares warmth through physical contact. As trust is exchanged from hand to hand, the connection between “you” and “me” begins. What better symbol for a collaborative performance between two very different nations? 

In June 2024, the Phare Performing Arts School and FORCE with perform the full co-production of “Handshake” at the biennial Tini Tinou International Circus Festival. 

Tini Tinou – meaning “here and there” in Khmer – is an international circus art festival that promotes creativity and international exchange in the performing arts. The festival aims to inspire youth through workshops, engage the local community with Cambodian circus, and foster unity and shared values across borders. 

For more information, check out tinitinou.com


International artist exchanges enrich both sides by strengthening transnational bonds, diversifying a student’s skills and experiences, and deepening appreciation for one another’s cultures and customs. Given those goals, this Cambodia-Korea circus exchange was a success.

We’re looking forward to the international debut of “Handshake” later this year. We’ll see you there!


Your contribution to Phare Ponleu Selpak puts these experiences within reach for talented young people in Battambang, Cambodia: Donate today to give underprivileged children and youth a chance to change their lives through the arts.


Chan Rattanakoudom works at Phare Ponleu Selpak
CHAN Rattanakoudom
Chan Rattanakoudom works as the Communications Assistant at Phare Ponleu Selpak and is an English Second Language Teacher. He dreams to be an English blog writer and wants to develop his communication skills. He loves to create and watch traveling videos in his free time besides reading.