(A film analysis on ‘And Then We Danced (2019) dir. Levan Akin)
By Howra Salaheddin
As I got ready to write this piece I thought about what it meant to make a film; what it was that made a man (presumably Levan Akin) ask a dancer with no acting experience five times on Instagram to accept this role, or to take a whole crew and travel to another continent to film in a country that doesn’t even support the premise of the film. It has to be something big, a story so important that you can’t wait to tell it, a story that is also a truth. I know what ignited the fire; it was witnessing the violent protests against a Tbilisi pride parade in 2013 that was endorsed by the Orthodox Church. I’ll save you the horrible details of what happened but the fruit of that act of hatred and ignorant rage was a movie about love, in all forms that they come.
And Then We Danced uses the most pivotal part of Georgia’s history and culture, as told by an elderly character Georgian dance is the spirit of this nation, to showcase the youth and future of Georgia. Merab, our main character, is a young dancer who has been dancing since childhood, never having any other dreams besides becoming a professional dancer like his parents once were.
Merab is often criticized by the instructor for being “weak” or “too soft”, it’s because of the feminine gestures and the way he moves. Traditionally the male Georgian dancer must be like a nail: strong and unmoving. The female dancers are the epitome of innocence and virginity. The dancers shouldn’t look happy or look at each other, as the instructor says “there’s no sexuality in Georgian dance.” Later in the film, we see Merab being the only source of income in the house where he, his brother, his mother, and grandmother all live together. He arrives at the academy sooner than everyone else to rehearse, and after it’s all done, he changes his clothes on the bus to get to his part-time job. It’s kind of crazy how this character who is balancing so many things together can be known as anything but strong.
Things change as they do in coming-of-age movies. A very talented young man, Irakli, suddenly transfers to the academy, and Merab is intrigued by him. Even though they are rivals for Merab’s dream position in the National Ensemble, he doesn’t hate Irakli. The way Irakli deals with life and the instructor and how his view of Georgian dance changes something in Merab. Soon, they’re good friends and Merab can’t stop glancing at him from across the room. They even get paired for a duet called “Kint” that the director says is rooted in a queer Georgian subculture that was erased over time. They are happy during the duet. Merab doesn’t get scolded for being too soft, and the dance actually has soft moments like the dancers touching their own cheeks in a very ‘feminine’ fashion. It seems like as the instructor said, Georgian dance was softer once and it got changed. One wonders why that happened.
The cultural points of this film are so subtle yet so true that it’s hard to believe Akin wasn’t raised in Georgia himself. Smoking foreign cigarettes in hope of something better. The same old discussions of Russia and USA in family dinners. The threat of globalization for countries who are deeply connected to their past. The urge third nation countries have to hang on to their old routines and traditions as our last bits of identity, and in the meantime, ruining what it all was supposed to mean.
Georgian dance wasn’t meant for perfection is what the owner of the academy said, yet the instructor forces Merab to be a ‘manly’ dancer. The dance is the spirit of Georgia yet it can’t allow the young dancers to be themselves, to be Georgian in their own ways.
As the relationship between Irakli and Merab changes, Merab does too. It’s as if something becomes evident. It’s not necessarily something that Irakli does but what his existence means to Merab. What loving a boy freely, at least in his own little world, means to him. It’s dancing with only your boxers on to ‘Honey’ by Robyn, it means not worrying about messy first times and getting away from the bubble of tradition that has followed you your whole life.
Merab though, like many young kids in love sees the magic in his lover rather than himself, and when he vanishes from his life; the fear of going back to the life he once had, closeted to himself and closed off, makes him lose control. He starts hanging out with other queer people. For a few moments, he’s having the time of his life without Irakli, and the new friends that make him feel just as normal as Irakli did. He doesn’t need Irakli to be free.
But the next day comes and when he’s back to the academy where a guy saw him with ‘those’ people last night and he’s losing his sense of self again. So Merab tries to do the spin correctly over and over again until he hurts his ankle, a dance cliché that I’m willing to forgive because it feels like the only time that Merab is really “weak”. He’s trying to prove something that he doesn’t even believe in anymore.
Realizing something about yourself that you’ve always hidden in the back of your mind can be something scary. Then, losing the one person who made it possible to open that door is even scarier, but what is more horrifying is to let go of who you found. When that door opens and you see yourself for who you really are, it’s a crime to turn your back on it.
In the end, Irakli finally comes around and declares he’s marrying his girlfriend from back home and you’ll think “Yup, another gay love story with a sad ending,” and that’s not quite what it is. When I compared the ending of this film to many other queer films that I’ve seen I realized something. As much as Merab loved Irakli and as much as Irakli was a factor in Merab’s self-recognition, it doesn’t change the fact that this is Merab’s life and story. When he gives Irakli’s earring, something he stole while they were still friends and a token that many other characters kept as a souvenir of the love, back to him and lets him go, he’s giving Irakli his power back. Merab’s realizing he is who he is because of himself, which is not something Irakli gave him.
This seems like a new look for queer films: to recognize characters’ sexualities as who they are rather than who they’re with. Merab wasn’t gay because of Irakli like he’ll no longer be a dancer because of Georgia or his parents. Merab is Merab and we see him as himself. In his last dance, a mixture of soft Kint moves, some sensual western moves, and traditional Georgian dance that enrages the owner but seems quite amusing to Merab’s own instructor; we see Merab as he finally let’s go of trying to be perfect and is as he is, the spirit of Georgia.