Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is one of the star performers at an elite dance academy in Tbilisi. He’s struggling to provide for his family, but is going steady with his girlfriend Mary (Ana Javakishvili), and seems primed for a spot in Georgia’s touring company, taking their traditional national dance around the world. Then Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) walks in, flashes a smile, and Merab’s professional and personal future suddenly seems far less certain. With And Then We Danced, director Levan Akin has given us a sensuous and timely love story with enormous political resonance – indeed, protests met the film’s Georgian premiere in November (far right activists attempted to disrupt the screenings, which nonetheless went ahead).
xAs the story unfolds, Merab and Irakli explore their feelings in dance, soundtracked to Robyn, Abba, and modern Georgian music, and their synchronised movements become like a shared vocabulary. The dance sequences in the film are gorgeous: Akin’s film feels like a beautiful gift from a culture which I, for one, had never experienced. The heavily enforced codes of masculinity and femininity within the dance tradition are an all-too familiar metaphor for society’s strict social mores. As Merab’s fearsome instructor reminds him, there is no sex in Georgian dance.
Levan Gelbakhiani as Merab shows an assured talent for inhabiting the lead character’s ecstatic joy and sorrow. As Merab’s journey brings him into direct conflict with these codes, Levan makes you feel every bit of pain that he feels. A dancer by training, Gelbakhiani is one to watch.
Akin’s film fixates on the physical world – objects and mementos like t-shirts, earrings and cigarettes are admired, caressed and kept hidden away. It’s one of the many ways that And Then We Danced recalls Call Me By Your Name, another heartbreaking story of first love, whether knowingly or not. Both stories revolve around the way a romantic obsession can expand to encompass not just a person, but any physical trace of them.
It’s a beautiful romance indeed, but to focus on the film’s beauty as a love story is reductive. By the time Merab’s story ends, And Then We Danced reveals itself to be more than a romance – it’s also about self-actualisation, and living authentically in a culture which wants you to wear a mask. This film should be seen by everyone.