Review

And Then We Danced review – powerful marriage of desire and identity

Traditional culture and sexual expression are aligned in this sensitive coming-of-age drama from filmmaker Levan Akin

“You should be like a nail… you’re too soft.” Strict rules are in force at this traditional Georgian dance school. Despite such critiques, young Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) still mesmerises with every snappy gyration and foot stomp. His focus is evaporated only as a result of the heat created between him and new student Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). Unforeseen is how the pair’s initially competitive relationship will crystallise into an aching dance of desire.

Although this set-up isn’t radical, the political consciousness of And Then We Danced is what separates it from other queer coming-of-age dramas. Writer-director Levan Akin weaves the discrimination faced by queer people in Georgia into the fabric of his film as an inescapable evil. Even among the dance students, a rumour propagates of a former pupil exiled to a conversion therapy camp after he was caught having sex with another man. This severe social climate changes everything. Whilst the affectionate glances and touches between Merab and Irakli carry the usual romantic excitement, these instances are also tinged with the risk of suspicion and violence.

For a young man like Merab, dance is an essential mode of expression. Each of his aforementioned imperfections are protests against the established norms, breathing life into his restrained soul. Identity and desire find shared ground at the intimate peak of the film. When they’re alone, Merab dances for Irakli to the sultry tones of Robyn’s “Honey.” The one-man show – soaked in a dusky autumnal glow that highlights the lines of Merab’s sculpted physique – is impossibly charming and sexy. The sequence proves conducive to intimacy; by stripping off the straight jacket imposed on their mutual yearning, Merab and Irakli finally give in to their desires.

First time actor Gelbakhiani’s inexperience is unnoticeable among his winning, boyish grin and an ability to convey an emotional state as tousled as his sweat-drench auburn locks – not to mention his immense talent on the dance floor. His sharp features and triangular frame contrast with Valishvili’s broader, rounder features; the incongruous pair prove a perfect match. Given Akin’s focus on the physical, such appearances are important. Cinematographer Lisabi Fridell holds the camera close just as the protagonist holds his emotions; every moment is a different version of intimate. And elegant long shots capture the dizzying nature of Merab’s mind.

The fact that And Then We Danced exists at all is a brave act of defiance. Its Georgian premiere was met by significant protests that mirrored the discrimination featured within the film. The inclusion of Georgian dancing is made significant because it responds to such hate by identifying the potential synergy between traditional culture and radical sexual expression. This film is a fine example of the overlapping realms of queer art and activism, in which every heartfelt moment is underscored with an anger towards the stolen freedoms of queer people today. Essential viewing.

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