David Cazalet – 'I want to do something to make a difference and make people think. I just can't go on watching children being bombed'

David Cazalet – 'I want to do something to make a difference and make people think. I just can't go on watching children being bombed'

Requiem for Aleppo is a non-political music and dance performance raising money for those still living in the decimated Syrian city of Aleppo

It's a sad but true fact, that when most of us are confronted by upsetting images on TV, we feel bad for a moment, resign ourselves to the idea there's nothing we can do – and move on. Not so composer David Cazalet, who found the reports from war-torn Aleppo so hard to bear, he sprang into action.

'I felt so passive watching it on the news every night,' he says, 'and I thought I want to do something to make a difference and make people think. I just can't go on watching children being bombed. So I decided to go to bed early, get up early, and write.'

And that's exactly what he did. The result is Requiem for Aleppo, a non-political work of music and dance being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe to raise money for those still living in the decimated Syrian city. Having already raised £70,000 from a performance at Sadler's Wells in London, and with plans to tour the show across the Middle East and Europe, Cazalet is most definitely making a difference.

'With the money from the Sadler's Wells performance, we're starting a teacher training facility in Syria,' he explains. 'Which might sound unromantic, but one of the real problems is that there are so many kids who need teachers – because when there are no good teachers, you get the fundamentalists moving back in and radicalisation. So this way we can reach thousands of kids.'

Cazalet's original score for the show blends the musical style of Andalus (a genre unique to Aleppo), requiem mass lyrics and 11th and 12th-century Arab poetry. Twelve dancers, drawn from around the world, perform the choreography of Jason Mabana, interwoven with poignant moments of spoken word from those who have lived through, or escaped, Aleppo's bombardment.

'The testimonies are all reflections on Aleppo as was,' says Cazalet. 'Some of them are reflections on the war, some on what people saw – some have been given by people who are now in the UK, others gave them over their mobile phones in Turkey and didn't want to be named. We've got a whole collection of people who are feeling what it's like to be a refugee.'

One particularly sad testimony from an older man recalls a time when people of different religions lived side-by-side in Aleppo, without cause for disharmony.

'He talks about how Muslims went to a Catholic seminary, because it didn't matter – no one talked about religion,' says Cazalet. 'Aleppo was once a place of enormous sophistication, and it shows the fragility of life that, in five years, it was gone. It's incredible to think that something so precious could go so fast.

'And I also wanted to show through the testimonies, that these people are just like us. We get conditioned by all the wrong forces to see refugees as long lines of people trying to get into Europe – but there's a human tragedy behind every single one of them.'

With so many good causes looking for a slice of our earnings, Cazalet has made sure that Requiem for Aleppo not only provides audiences with a great night at the theatre, but an assurance that their cash is well spent.

'I've raised money through donors and corporate sponsorship so that all the costs associated with putting on the show are dealt with,' says Cazalet. 'Which means all the ticket money can go straight to charity – so people who buy a ticket know their money is going to Syria, and not funding the lights for the show.'

Requiem for Aleppo, Pleasance @ EICC, 16 Aug, 7.30pm, £15.

Requiem for Aleppo

A new production bringing together 12 dancers from across the world. The original music is a combination of Requiem Mass lyrics set to choral music, Arabic poetry and the voices of people from Aleppo telling their real-life stories. Includes testimonies of real life stories from Aleppo that some audiences may find…

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