And Then We Danced is a movie about a group of older teenagers who are studying classical ballet within the confines of Georgian dance, their traditions, their families, their new found loves and sexual desires.
The setting is Georgia, a small country bordered by Russia to the north and Turkey to the south. The film follows an older teenager, Merab, as he strives to be the best in his class and to be chosen to dance for the national ballet company. His world becomes fractured when another boy, Irakli, comes into the class and immediately throws the gauntlet down that he is the best.
I was captivated by the beauty of Georgian folkloric ballet, a traditional form of dance with roots coming out of the middle ages and expressions based on military, sports and Christian holidays. It is strong in form and demanding in precision.
Watching the dance we can feel and experience the energy of the whirling dervishes coming out of Turkey and the classical and precise strength of Russian ballet. North American audiences have seen lots of movies like Fame (1980) and Black Swan (2010) that deal with the demands of professional dance and the dancer’s personal struggles with life; however, And Then We Danced treats us to look at another culture that is full of tradition and contrasts. On the surface, the culture is strict in conservatism, religion and morals but still faces the same struggles of emerging youth, changing cultural values, homophobia and the struggle between new and old.
Writer/director Levan Akin has us riding two parallel story lines that converge into one creating tension and anticipation. The relationship between the two male leads, Merab and Irakli, has us at first wondering whether the focus of the story is about the competition of being chosen for the professional dance company or about the coming of age of these teenagers.
Akin masterfully brings our lens into focus as we become consumed with Merab and his struggles to deal with the demands and expectations of his family, his friends, his past and his sexual desires. Akin looks into the soul of male ballet dancers and their position in a “be seen but not heard” society. Challenged with Christian morals and conservatism, the film wrestles with homophobia and the hidden world the characters live within.
The music and dance are beautiful to listen to and watch, heightened by the personal real life tensions the characters are going through. The dancing reflects the dancers’ attitudes as they try to stay within tradition while at the same time expressing their joy and angst with their day-to-day struggles and emotions. The music is exciting, strong and beautiful.
I was most impressed by the performances of Levan Gelbakhiani (Merab) and Bachi Valishvili (Irakli) and how they portrayed their characters in a complex storyline. For this reason, I recommend this movie with four out of five tugboats.
And Then We Danced plays during the Powell River Film Festival (February 7 to 16) at 7 pm on Monday, February 10, at the Patricia Theatre. Run time is 106 minutes.
Film festival tickets are on sale now at prfilmfestival.ca.
Stephen J. Miller is a producer and creative writer in feature films and television, and past owner of repertoire movie theatres.