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Flash Review, 8-5: "Escapade"
Bollywood on the South Bank

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- Seen this past weekend, "Escapade" transformed the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank into a shimmering phantasmagoric Bollywood set. This huge multi-media event, which included dance, music, DJs, skateboarding, film and visuals was an ingenious hit brought 'large' to London by its culturally rich Indian community. 150 dancers performed outside on balconies, alcoves, grassy banks and underpasses around the Festival Hall. Sound systems blasted out remixes of Bollywood hits, live sitar music and the very latest beats from the Asian underground club scene. When it grew dark a film was projected onto the outside of the RFH, melting its solid serious contours into a canvas for British-Asian culture.

With a strong artistic team headed by artistic director Keith Khan, "Escapade" was totally in touch with a London "as seen through Indian eyes." It uses a simple plot -- a couple of lovers meet and are about to kiss, but are held in a moment of heightened anticipation. This is a 'quotation' borrowed from Bollywood movies where until recently kisses were never actually shown on screen and lovers' passion is never consummated.

During the first half of the event, the lovers' encounter is performed live by 'contemporary' dancers who search for each other amidst the arty chaos of dance and activity in the concrete jungle of the RFH. They encounter Indian tourists in a red London bus, Bollywood superstars, Punkz and skateboarders, traditional sari-wearing dancers, sloanes (posh Indians) and Asian b-boys, all doing their thing. Whenever they do manage to meet the actual act of kissing is constantly deferred.

The second half of "Escapade" uses film to narrate the lovers' encounter, while a film within a film portrays a family in front of its TV set watching the lovers and constantly rewinding and fast forwarding the action. Suspense builds and the audience sighs -- everybody wants the kiss. When the lovers' lips finally meet, celebrations abound. Groups of dancers congregate on podiums and balconies and give it their all in a movement orgy, while fireworks are launched from the roof, and lights flicker splendidly off and on in time to the music. There's even an Indian transvestite camping it up on a podium and working the crowd hard.

Overall, "Escapade" offers a wonderful mix of Bollywood-appropriate naivete, postmodern deconstruction of image and text, and juxtaposition of art forms. Best of all, it's celebratory, displaying content from many different cultural trends and embracing them all. While it all seems a bit daunting at the beginning as one has to look quite hard for the different dancers who are spread out over a large area, it gradually comes together, like the lovers, as one coherent whole.

Standing under the walls of the lofty RFH in a sea of appreciative dancing people, I felt love for London for giving us this free event. That evening in the rare heat of a summer evening, London did me and a whole lot of others proud.

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