I have often commented on the bravery of bringing LGBTQ+ stories to our screens from those countries where oppression is still rife. But when this bravery is coupled with a mission to break down the stereotypes and perceptions that lead to segregation and discrimination by exploring themes of culture, identity and history, motion pictures can open the door to change. Leven Akin’s And Then We Danced is one of those movies as it explores the barriers of cultural homophobia and the freedom of art through the lives of two young dancers.
Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) balances his love of dance with a part-time job waiting tables while living in a cramped Tbilisi flat alongside his older brother David, mum and grandmother. His daily restaurant leftovers provide the bulk of the family meals while his older brother (who also dances) drinks his nights away in the local bars. However, despite his breadline existence, Merab longs to become a full-time dancer with the National Georgian Ensemble. But while Merab dreams of changing his life through dance, his family name restricts his ability to make it happen. His father was a notable dancer who dropped out of the ensemble, while his brother’s drinking and money-making schemes brought the family name into disrepute. Meanwhile, the dancing school is overseen by the complex and cold figure of Aliko (Kakha Gogidze), a teacher who proudly states, “There is no room for weakness in Georgian dance”.
When Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), a gifted dancer from another town, joins the troupe, Merab finds himself both fascinated and jealous of Irakli’s ability and prowess. Merab’s feelings are a mix of rivalry and desire that slowly draw him into a new world of possibilities and change as auditions approach for the National Ensemble.
Georgia’s history has been far from smooth in both ancient and modern times, from its place at the heart of the Russian Empire in 1800 to claiming independence following the Russian Revolution, only to find itself back under soviet control in 1921. 1991 would see Georgia again declare independence, leading to The Georgian Civil War of 1993. Due to this, Georgia has often found its ancient cultural roots wrapped up in the history of those who have invaded or controlled its destiny, with the arts a direct victim.
Homosexuality was banned in Georgia under Czarist rule, only to be accepted in law after the country joined the European community. However, despite this change, oppression against LGBTQ+ people is still rife in society; look at the protests and violence against the attempted gay pride events of 2013 and 2019. While raised in Stockholm, director Leven Akin’s Georgian roots shine through in And Then We Danced, a film that celebrates the country and its culture while dissecting the complex social oppression faced by LGBTQ+ Georgians. Akin explores the power and influence of the Orthodox Church and Russian culture in fuelling negative perceptions and stereotypes while surrounding this with a young man’s defiant yet delicate sexual awakening.
Central to this complex portrait of discrimination, art, and culture is the performance of Levan Gelbakhiani, who leads the narrative with intensity and charm, embodying pride, passion and freedom. While also reflecting the power of art in enabling escape and rebirth. And Then We Danced is a personal study of one young man’s journey to self-acceptance through a generational change and artistic expression. This raw emotional power is never more potent than in Merab’s final defiant dance, where he shatters his chains and unlocks the gay artist within.
Director: Levan Akin