by Shiromi Pinto
Written in 2006.
Akademi's chameleon-like quality, its ability to adapt to changing socio-cultural trends and occasionally predict them, has made it what it is today.Whether through community and education outreach programmes or dance training initiatives, Akademi has consistently led the way in increasing an awareness and appreciation of South Asian dance practice across cultural groups in London and, arguably, the UK.
From its early days as a provider of evening classes to its transformation into a touring company in the mid to late 1980s, Akademi was focused on cultivating an enthusiasm for the art form, filling a gap in service provision and building audiences for South Asian dance.
The 1990s saw Akademi blossom into a fully fledged arts development organisation, reflected in its creation of the separate and complementary departments of education, community, dance training and dance development.
These departments were streamlined in 2001 to represent a new direction for Akademi – large-scale, site-specific, professional productions – so that the organisation now operates on a twin-track approach, its education and community division working symbiotically with its production, training and professional development unit.
Through its departments and officers, Akademi has embarked on a series of innovations in South Asian dance activity: introducing theme-based projects linked to the National Curriculum, confronting contemporary issues through practice which encourages self-empowerment, opening up dialogue between South Asian dance professionals and their western contemporary counterparts, pioneering research into dance training needs.
Akademi officers and artists are now found in multiple contexts: from schools to prisons, youth centres to hospitals, special needs groups to homes for the elderly. Its professional workshops have given rise to cross-disciplinary exploration. Its dance training research has led to the creation of a South Asian dance faculty at the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, internationally recognised syllabi for bharata natyam and kathak and, for the first time, the possibility of specialising in South Asian dance at the London Contemporary Dance School through its BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance.
Akademi's extravaganzas, Coming of Age (2000) and Escapade (2002), transformed the placid exterior of the South Bank Centre, celebrating South Asian dance in a storm of colour and motion. These events were the most public testament to the role played by the organisation in the development of a vibrant South Asian dance community. With such an extensive portfolio, Akademi is certainly considered a leading arts development organisation in London - a regional organisation of strategic, national significance.
Twenty-six years on, and Akademi continues to engage in this dialectic, bringing South Asian dance to a range of subjects-from children to the elderly, novices to professional dancers. And Akademi will continue to negotiate the narratives as it participates in this dynamic and enduring conversation.