Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is a promising young dancer in the National Georgian Ensemble. Yet when new student Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) walks in, Merab starts to develop new feelings and longings.
And Then We Danced is a coming out story with a twist. Levan Akin’s third feature charts a young man slowly embracing his homosexuality played out against the backdrop of toxic straight culture in Georgia, alive to the crushing weight of traditional identities and values on a new generation. It’s an engrossing rites of passage tale that occasionally gets tangled up in cliché but wins out thanks to a talented young cast (especially lead Levan Gelbakhiani), offering a fascinating glimpse into a rarely seen society and numerous sequences of Georgian dance that are both crucial to the drama and thrilling.
Prefaced by archival footage of traditional Georgian folk dancing, the film opens in a rehearsal studio with Merab (Gelbakhiani) dancing with longtime partner and kinda girlfriend, Mary (Ana Javakishvili in a paper-thin role). As Merab brings sensitivity and grace to the movements, he is constantly berated by his strict instructor. “Georgian dance is based on masculinity,” his teacher tells him. “There is no room for weakness in Georgian dance.” His life away from dance is no less tough; waiting tables in a crummy restaurant, fighting with his volatile brother and tending to his grandmother and unemployed mother. Things looks up, however, when bad boy Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) steps into the studio (we know he’s a rebel because he wears an earring). Merab initially considers him a threat in the upcoming National championships — he is particularly annoyed when Irakli usurps his place in a duet — but there is something about the kid he is drawn to.
The film really hits its stride in a lengthy party sequence that takes place in a huge, shabby but chic manor. Hopped up on homemade wine, the pair share an intimate moment in the woods that opens Merab’s eyes to new delights and a new world — to celebrate, Merab dances with wild abandon to Robyn’s ‘Honey’ sporting a big fur hat, an intoxicating expression of new love. But after furtive glances in the car on the way back home, it soon becomes clear that the path of true love is not going to run smooth.
Akin’s script steers a predictable course through gay love story tropes and flirts with melodrama. But, helped by a terrific performance from Gelbakhiani, he never loses sight of Merab’s inner life, which bursts out in a final dance sequence of uncomfortable intensity. Juxtaposing a coming-of-age flick with the confines of traditional Georgian culture, And Then We Danced is a film about the political and the personal. And oftentimes, a pretty powerful one too.
Update: Happy Wheels 3D.