Tradition is everywhere in Georgia, perhaps because of a determination to retain the country’s national identity. But with tradition comes conservatism, as Levan Akin explores through the microcosm of a Georgian dance troupe in his gorgeous romance And Then We Danced.
Georgian dance isn’t about perfection, but Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) strives for it anyway. He’s militant in his devotion to practice, putting his body through hell to bring a better life for his family. Coming from a long line of unsuccessful dancers (his father, also a former dancer, works at a market stall), Merab is equally intent to escape the fate his familial history has ascribed him.
Enter newbie Irakli (Bachi Valishvili): cheeky and insouciant, he effortlessly proves himself as the better dancer. Merab initially greets him with animosity, but their rivalry dissolves to reveal a tentative attraction. Courtship plays out in hidden enclaves and private rooms. Any public display of affection is subtextual — a secret shared between only them.
In a country that is still antagonistic towards gay people, dramatic proclamations of love are absent in favour of a romance that is corporeal. Each type of Georgian dance tells a story, and there’s a communicative power in movement. Credit is due to the stunning choreography blending the traditional and modern — whenever Merab and Irakli dance together, desire hangs in the space between them, as if each swing of an arm or leg is a dare to take one step closer. So much is said without uttering a word.
Aggressive leaps and spins likewise suggest a frustration with the conservative society Merab has found himself in. They tell tales of his unspoken connection with Irakli: tender emotion paired with raw, carnal desire. The camera hones in on the human body, isolating its parts to deeply sensual effect — not just seeing but feeling the harsh bending of a foot, the rippling of muscles on Merab’s back, or the momentary ecstasy of a hand on an inner thigh.
One can sense a kinship between the film and another same-sex romance: Call Me By Your Name. Small touches and darting glances are absorbed like shockwaves. Merab clings to Irakli even when he’s gone through the smell of a shirt or the touch of an earring. And Then We Danced recalls familiar tropes, but Akin still effortlessly achieves something distinctive with the film’s setting and the use of bodies as a canvas for emotion. Add to that the miraculous performance from Gelbakhiani (And Then We Danced is his first role). He’s like Timothée Chalamet with abs.
Even in the dance hall, a strict definition of man is enforced. Merab is scolded for being too soft. “Georgian dance is based on masculinity,” says the group’s teacher. “There is no room for weakness.” The rigid conservatism of Georgia, both in dance and beyond, is what was holding him back. It’s only when Merab learns that there is strength in that very weakness that he is able to break free.