For five weeks in 2016, Asian Social Circus Association (ASCA) performers from Indonesia and Afghanistan have joined with students and artists from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s Performing Arts School to share skills, teach, learn, and explore here in Battambang.
To get a sense of who they are, meet 20 year old April and Wawan, two performers from Indonesia’s social circus organization, Red Nose Foundation. Both performers come from Jakarta on the Indonesian island of Java, and both joined Red Nose Foundation 8 years ago, in 2008. Since then, they’ve worked their way up and are now assistant instructors within the troope.
Next, from Kabul, Afghanistan, meet 19 year old Samim and 22 year old Lutfullah. Both these young men hail from the social circus group Mobile Mini Circus for Children where Samim has been involved for 7 years, and Lutfullah for 12.
Last week, we sat down with these traveling social circus types to ask them about their lives, their circus troopes, and their impressions of life in Battambang, Cambodia.
For weeks these four travelers have been working side by side with more than 25 artists from Phare and instructors from France in a street art creation workshop for Tini Tinou International Circus Festival. The workshop culminated with a big parade through the streets of Battambang and a week of free, public performances in the Dragon Peace Garden. For many of these performers, it will be their first time performing in the streets.
Each of the performers has come here as part of Tini Tinou International Circus Festival to teach and to learn. April and Wawan both specialize in acrobatics, juggling, and clowning and are teaching acrobatics. During their time here in Cambodia, April is learning contortion and silks while Wawan is learning trampoline skills and handstands.
Lutfullah and Samim both teaching juggling, and Samim also teaches unicycle to children. At Phare, the young men are learning different skills. Samim is learning how to balance on the rola bola and can already balance three levels high. Meanwhile, Lutfullah has been studying diabolo, or the Chinese yo-yo. They both are excited to teach trampoline workshops for their troope in Kabul.
Obviously, circus is a huge part of each of their lives, but in surprisingly different ways.
For both the young men from Afghanistan, social circus has the capacity to make people happy.
“Circus brings laughter,” Lutfullah remarked, “and people need to laugh.”
For the pair from Indonesia, social circus has a big impact on the lives of children.
April talked of how the little kids in Indonesia must help their mother with work in order to find money for food. Now that April is in the circus, she sees kids “playing, studying, and laughing.”
And for Wawan, circus gave him another option outside of school. After switching schools many times around Jakarta, he eventually had to drop out. But through the circus he has a job, and can study English while working hard at something he loves.
And through their circus troupes, all four of these artists have been able to explore different parts of the world. For Lutfullah and Samim, this is the first time they have traveled internationally. April has previously been to Thailand and Myanmar. And Wawan has traveled the farthest, to Myanmar, Canada, and the United States.
Having been in Battambang for several weeks now, the performers had some interesting insights about Cambodia and the similarities and differences between their countries. All of the performers think that the Cambodian people are kind, helpful, and that the children are fun to work with. For April, she was most struck by the work ethic of the Cambodian circus students at Phare Ponleu Selpak.
“The first time I saw the kids practice, I felt very excited because in Indonesia it is not like this. Here, they work very hard, but in Indonesia we just have fun and play games.”
For Lutfullah, he was most struck by some key differences between the people in Afghanistan and Cambodia:
“In this country, all the people are working. For example, here the women and girls and boys are all working. In Afghanistan, not many women are working.”
He also noted that in Cambodia, every house looks the same. Perhaps that is why Samim and Lutfullah both say they often got lost when they first arrived. Now finding their way is much easier and the Cambodian people always help them if they get lost.
For Wawan, the most important thing is, “the food is good.”