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Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia

Creative training offers an alternative lifestyle for young performers

A dancer appears behind a screen during a show in Siem Reap. (Photo by Tom Vater)

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.

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