Director: Levan Akin
Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
What It Evokes: Coming of age stories, tradition against change, bodies in motion
On a dance floor, the body takes on the aspect of freedom, liberated from the movements regulating quotidian life and expressing itself (for better or worse) in novel configurations. By contrast, staged dance performance manages the body, demanding control of movement (and, by extension, physical command of oneself and one’s surrounding space). This tension between independence and constriction, between self-expression and self-discipline, functions as the central theme of Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced, a coming of age (and coming out) story centering on a young man determined to make the Georgian National Dance Ensemble while, at the same time, struggling against the social strictures placed on homosexuality and his own sexual sense of self. Georgian folk dance, with its acrobatics and traditions, remains the organizing principle structuring Merab’s life and aspirations. His grandmother and parents all partook in the National Dance Ensemble. Most forcefully for young people trapped in unpromising economic circumstances, the National Dance Ensemble offers the potential for travel and escape. At time same time, traditional dance (and the social demands made of its aspirants) can be, well, traditional, reflecting a hidebound and fixed set of expectations which transcend studio walls, underlining customary and conservative aspects of society.
National symbols aspire to constitute a sense of unity across a people. They attempt to showcase the uniqueness of a cultural or social trait inherent to a political unit. Yet, they too reconfigure themselves over time. After all, customs subtly alter in meaningful ways over generations. So too the mores around sexuality. Of course, the pace of change matters to the marginalized. Merab, in addition to desperately desiring to make the Ensemble, desires his fellow dancer Irakli, whose own mysterious past and impetuous attitude towards his instructors attracts our more assiduous and accommodating central character. This fledgling relationship provides the film’s suspense: sublimation struggling against the pure exuberance of sexual attraction. On the one hand, this film testifies to the difficulties and complexities of embracing openly one’s sexuality in more conservative cultures. Perhaps more interestingly, it also underscores the numerous reasons young people find their local environs stifling, the strictures around sexuality being but one of the many “push factors” Merab confronts. Technology, of course, has drastically altered the personal calculus. It’s much easier to see your own society as retrograde when you have a phone capable of disclosing more liberal attitudes elsewhere. Those from the metropole (read: America or rich Western European countries in this particular case) often overlook the exotic allure for outsiders—after all, we’re familiar with our many foibles—but the sense of not being where the activity occurs predominates throughout the film. Even Western cigarettes, as opposed to Georgian brands, hold out the promise of improvement and status in one choice scene. At its best, the film catalogs the ways in which the young attempt to stave off the calcifying restrictions imposed by their social environments, using the themes of sexuality and dance in order to engage with those questions. And Then We Danced may not be the most complex film in the world, but it’s a beautiful one engaging difficult and timeless questions.
Go Down The Rabbit Hole With:
Zaza Urushadze — Tangerines (2013)
Nana Ekvtimishvili — My Happy Family (2017)