"There is no sex in Georgian dance. This isn't the Lambada," says Merab's dance instructor, foreshadowing a bit of what is to come in director Levan Akin's newest film, AND THEN WE DANCED.
Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is a dancer. His father and grandmother were dancers, and now he clings to that title, along with his brother, David (Giorgi Tseretelli), as they struggle to make ends meet for their family while dancing in the company. If they can't pay the bills, they at least can boast of their dancing heritage - though Merab can't seem to win the praise of his instructor, being called "too weak" and not being able to bring enough manliness to the roles he dances.
When one of the dancers in the company disappears (rumors are that he had sex with a man, and got sent to a monastery), a replacement dancer arrives - Irakli (Bachi Valishvili). Merab decides to start practicing with Irakli to improve his craft, but the relationship quickly becomes more than just a partner to practice with, as Merab falls head over heels for Irakli.
The story is more than just a forbidden love story (ah, there we have our nod to the Lambada again - the "forbidden dance", paralleling this Georgian community as they navigate the idea of homosexuality). It also brushes against the beast of gender norms. We get to see Merab fighting for his own passion, and for the confidence he has in himself as a dancer, even if his dance is not the most masculine (and as we've seen from dance throughout the centuries, it really doesn't need to be in order to be performance art). As Merab connects with his sexuality, he connects with his inner rebellion and discovers what, in fact, he actually wants.
There is power in Merab's story. It may not be tied up neatly with little bows by the end of the film, but we do see the trajectory of Merab's journey -- even if he can't win the appreciation of his own culture, he will at least discover himself. And Gelbakhiani takes the role to a very relatable place: we all recognize the joy that one gets when they find themselves in love, and the way he expresses his emotions in the film is on point.
Definitely check out AND THEN WE DANCED! The film is now available on demand at midtowncinema.com!