Requiem for Aleppo

Composed by David Cazalet and choreographed by Jason Mabana

Pleasance at the EICC

Pleasance at EICC

On 16 August 2017

Rating: ****

Review by Keith Mckenna

Aerial footage of war torn Aleppo projected onto the huge back screen of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) stage towards the end of the Requiem for Aleppo is a shocking sight.

Rubble-strewn streets are at times indistinguishable from the remains of buildings. Surviving apartment blocks are partially demolished and the whole area seems completely deserted.

The morning of the Edinburgh performance, David Cazalet, who conceived and composed the Requiem, walked up to Arthur's Seat and looked out over the historic city that seemed so secure, so permanent and thought about its contrast with the historic city of Aleppo.

It is hard to imagine the suffering of those caught up in the devastation of the recent four-year battle for control of the city. But this suffering is the key theme of the Requiem which musically draws on Christian, Jewish and Arabic traditions.

A metal chain holding a ball containing a single light hangs down onto the bare stage. just out of reach of the dancers who take turns to run on the spot beneath that light.

There is a great deal of running in the show. Most of the time it is a single dancer running as if in fear, sometimes it is all the dancers running.

They wear light cotton which, in the dim light, seems civilian grey or perhaps there is a hint of prison work clothes. After all, this is life under Assad.

A single woman runs into the opening of the show, raising her arms perhaps in surrender or horror. She is joined by a man moving in an agonising crawl towards her.

Images of pain often return to the dancing.

Occasionally, there are moments reflecting a better time. The voice-over testimony of former Aleppo residents tell us about them and the dancers at one point slowly dance as couples embracing each other tenderly or gently caressing each other’s cheeks.

Then the images of suffering return and half the dancers seem to be carrying a corpse as the voice over asks, “why did the international community let it happen?”

The strong group of dancers give a fine performance but the choreography and music is rather narrowly, even apolitically, riveted to the single theme of Syrians suffering.

There will be those who say that is what a requiem is, and that this charity event filled a good 900 seats of the huge EICC raising considerable sums for Syrian relief. Except, it surely should have been much more.

After watching the Requiem, the audience will be none the wiser about the causes, consequences or even possible solutions to the ongoing Syrian crises. Even that voice-over plea for international intervention seems dangerously naïve if we consider the competing aims of Russia and America.

Yes, the complexity of the situation is off-putting. That is why the audience might have wanted an attempt to shed some light on the situation. Instead it just added some pleasant dancing to the drip, drip, drip news of how horrible it all is and let’s throw up our arms in despair and run away from the issue.