Akademi's Escapade took the South Bank Centre by storm on 1 and 2 August 2003. Some said the production exceeded the enormously successful Coming of Age, which began Akademi's special relationship with the architecture of this site three years earlier. What it matched in ambition and perhaps scale, Akademi certainly surpassed in daring with its latest spectacle.
With a cast of performers running to well over one hundred, an impressively large production team, and vast spaces teeming with carnival punks, dancers, percussionists and, at the end of it all, fireworks, Escapade couldn't help but live up to its name.
Showcasing the often 'invisible' community and education work that has earned Akademi its respected reputation, Escapade was an exuberant tribute to the democratic resilience of pop culture in the UK. Urban, British, South Asian cool: for two nights, Bollywood kitsch went art-house on London's South Bank with a triumphant, bootylicious bang.
A near kiss: the eyes look, but the lips don't touch. This exact moment of aching suspense, a staple of many Bollywood films, drives the drama of Escapade, an open-air extravaganza. Produced by south Asian dance organisation Akademi, conceived by its director Mira Kaushik and directed by Keith Khan, Escapade involves 10 choreographers and more than 100 performers from a diverse range of professional, community and education groups. It deliriously captures the spark of a London-based, Asian-influenced cultural vibrancy.
Sanjoy Roy wrote in The Guardian, 7 August 2003;
"Escapade opens not with an archetypal pair of romantic leads, but with twelve couples, of both genders, each enacting their own scenario of desire, rebuttal or conciliation. But, as in the best musical films, the narrative is simply a pretext for the numbers, and the drama blossoms into spectacle. Dressed in neon colours, wigged, jewelled, booted and slippered, performers take over the concrete walkways as loudspeakers blare a heady mix of Hindi film songs, R&B, rock and club beats above the throng of spectators. Line-dancing Bollywood babes flash seductive glances from a balcony, while a posse of punk women get down to an urban vibe in the underpass below. Leggy ballet types flail their extendible limbs, school kids act out film-star fantasies, skateboarders surf the ramps, and an open-topped red bus laden with "Indian tourists" chugs into the fray.
The action culminates at the back of the building, the wall becoming a giant screen showing two lovers about to kiss. They are censored by a jump-cut to an Indian family, whose lightly comic struggles for control of the video remote send the projection into dizzying rewinds, playbacks and channel-hops. Meanwhile, the live performers spill out onto balconies and podiums: Indian Chhau dancers are kitted in bandanas and low-slung shorts and the astonishing Anand Kumar rolls up for a riveting mix of film dance, Kathak and voguing.
The question on everyone's lips is: do the lovers finally get to kiss? After countless near-misses, they do, igniting exuberant bopping as fireworks explode triumphantly from the roof."