‘In the traditional world of Georgian dance, a young man is trying to find his footing.’
Writer and director, Levan Akin, provides an immersive romance nestled in the tradition of Georgian dance. Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is incredibly self-disciplined, rushing between home, dance rehearsals and his restaurant job to make ends meet. Merab’s world changes when Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) enters the room as the ‘strange new boy’ who Merab can’t keep his eyes off. Transfixed by the man, it transpires that Irakli’s dance talent makes him Merab’s main dance rival. Their competitive streak runs parallel to their shared infatuation.
This romance is situated in Tbilisi, Georgia where circling conversations set a reminder that there is an intolerance of homosexuality and queerness, and mentions of another young man who was beaten up and sent away after being caught having sex with another man linger. This is the environment in which Merab and Irakli’s romance exists. Through the simplest of gestures, like Irakli falling asleep on his shoulder at the back of the bus, Merab’s sweet smile is infectious. Akin shows these moments of indulgence as hesitant yet hypnotising. The expression of enchantment represents an emerging desire that is so telling of young queer narratives, where all seems thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Akin also finds a love that Georgia boasts: a diverse group of young people that Merab dances all night with. A display of queer friendship that exists in the shadow of intolerance. Merab’s tight muscles can relax as he lets loose and feels the pulsing music, moving to the rhythm of a new beat with these alternative friends.
Embodying a feminine quality to his character, Merab holds a gracefulness that embraces the softness of masculinity. Yet there is little room for this in the tradition of Georgian dance. “Georgian dance is based on masculinity!” states his dance instructor, whose demanding presence has no time for imperfections, cutting off dancers mid-movement. When there is a somewhat accepting nature of gay male dancers in other settings, And Then We Danced occupies a space where there is little tolerance for queerness. Akin’s exquisite framing shows off the divine nature of Merab’s dance abilities, constantly rehearsing to strengthen and perfect his technique. The stifling tradition of Georgian dance requires Merab’s body to be rigid in choreography, resembling the structure of a marble statue, these frames are carefully composed to show the manoeuvring of his body. His dance partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili) seems more like a supportive childhood friend than a possible love interest for him, while when dancing with Irakli it is clear their connection runs deep. Centrally, Gelbakhiani and Valishvili share palpable chemistry that ensures the raw affection of their characters’ magnetic connection to be at the heart of this film.
These gifted dancers ooze charm and charisma in their performances. Through dance, unsaid words are translated and movement becomes essential to the intimate moments between Merab and Irakli. When on a break from rehearsal at Mary’s luxurious house, the party dies down and the pair find themselves alone. This is the setting for one of the most outstanding scenes of the film: a delicate moment where Merab’s body is hypnotic in its free movement, dancing in a way that resembles a juxtaposition to the rigidness of Georgian dance. Here, every stretch of Merab’s limbs is effortlessly beautiful, relaxed and sensuous, as he dances for Irakli. With a papakha perched over his curls and a cigarette hanging from his lips, Merab commands the empty room as his dance floor with Irakli’s appreciation as his audience. Robyn’s ‘Honey’ is a staggeringly perfect song-choice as Merab’s body is bathed in golden light against the dim room as he performs to the lyrics “I have what you want. Come get your honey.” The seductive vocals are the soundtrack to their bodies growing closer. It is a mesmerising scene that is transcendent with a glorious resonance centred on youthful desire.
The way in which And Then We Danced’s movement is visualised is through a fluid, graceful lens. These intense emotions are compellingly captured by fantastic cinematographer: Lisabi Fridell, who is remarkable at achieving a visual tone that compliments the progressing romance. The beguiling visuals of these moments are masterfully choreographed with seamless camera movement that is just as elegant as the control Merab has over his compact body. Abound with these moments of perseverance, Merab is unrelenting in his self-expression through dance, ignoring his instructors commands to stop Merab pushes his body through exhaustion. Making every beat of the drum impactful and every extension of his body symbolic.
Just as Irakli opens the door and steps into the world of Georgian dance, Akin has thrown open a door for LGBTQ+ representation in Georgia. A daring but profoundly essential film that familiarises itself with queerness in a compellingly sincere way. This narrative is familiar, yet And Then We Danced introduces it through a different lens: the Georgian context sets this film in a different stead. This is not a narrative of repression, nor does the film mull over a self-hatred or personal malice, instead, this is a story of self-discovery and affirmation where every glance speaks volumes and dance speaks the words that are not said.
Featuring Studio Ghibli references, ABBA, Robyn and the exceptional acting talent of a dog, this is an undeniably wonderful film from Akin. The triumphant anthem of the film is the Kite song: ‘Johnny Boy.’ A euphoric, uplifting tune that echoes the words: “I know myself.” A hopeful sentiment that Merab dances to. His self-acceptance flowers, even in turbulent surroundings. It is with sheer bravery and determination that Merab is, indeed, on his way to finding his footing.