Traditional Georgian dance defines Merab’s life. His father and mother were traditional Georgian dancers good enough to have gone on tour to London and perform at the Royal Albert Hall. His brother and sort-of girlfriend, Mary, both belong to a junior company, as Merab does. When a newcomer to the troupe asks how long he’s danced, Merab replies “since I could walk.” Written and directed by Levan Akin, “And Then We Danced” starts streaming April 3 via the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s Virtual Screening Room. The film definitely lives up to its title.
An announcement that auditions are to be held for the Georgian National Ensemble makes Merab’s eyes do a dance of their own. That’s saying something, since Levan Gelbakhiani, who plays him, has the droopy look of a hangdog Timothée Chalamet.
The newcomer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), wants to audition, too. Uh-oh. Perhaps that’s not all he wants. He and Merab exchange significant glances. Further uh-oh. Melodrama ensues.
Further complicating the situation — besides the presence of Mary (Ana Javakishvili), who’s more sidekick/plot device than actual romantic interest — is the reactionary culture of Georgian traditional dance. “You’re too soft,” a taskmaster dance instructor tells Merab. “You need to be more like a monument.” An unrelenting emphasis on masculinity makes Georgian dance toxically homophobic.
The best thing about Akin’s film is the dance stuff. The movie begins with arresting black-and-white archival footage of Georgian dancing. The rehearsals in the dance studio come alive, thanks in no small part to the drum-and-accordion accompaniment. Kinetically, the style of dance is percussive and assertive. It doesn’t so much flow as boil.
The second-best thing is the view provided of daily life in Tbilisi. Do you have any idea how the city looks or what the texture of life there is like? Me neither. It seems at once exotic (biting into a pomegranate for a snack) and familiar (yes, that’s Abba being danced to at a party). Even in a globalized world, the appeal of travelogue should never be underestimated — and it’s that much greater at this moment when much of that globalized world is housebound.
Unfortunately, neither dance nor travel ultimately compensates for the melodrama. Perhaps it’s a sign of how far society has come, at least outside of Georgia, that same-sex sappiness seems neither more nor less sappy than the other kind. Nor do dance and travel compensate for Akin’s love of Steadicam. The camera moves a lot more than Merab does and to a rather less effect.
“And Then We Danced.” is available via the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s “virtual screening room” at coolidge.org/films/and-then-we-danced. A portion of the ticket cost will go to the theater.
AND THEN WE DANCED
Written and directed by Levan Akin. Starring Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakishvili. Available for streaming rental at coolidge.org/films/and-then-we-danced. 113 minutes. Unrated (as R: intense sexuality). In Georgian, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.