‘And Then We Danced’ is simple, yet heartbreaking

Monday, April 13, 2020 - 3:44pm

NOSELL

Music Box Films

The world of professional dance is ruthless — the beauty we see as an audience is often the result of years of both psychological and physical damage. To become a principal dancer in any kind of dance company requires a certain amount of discipline that the average person doesn’t have. Every dancer, whether they’re just starting out or are at the peak of their career, has questioned not only whether they’re technically good enough, but also if they have the “look.” For ballet, this means long, sinewy limbs that can gracefully hold impressive positions. Meanwhile, in other styles of dance, this might mean impossibly fast feet or sharp movements that look effortless. In “And Then We Danced,” the audience is exposed to the Georgian tradition of dance, a strong conservative style that values masculinity and confidence. It’s a style that leaves no room for someone unsure of the choreography, let alone their own identity.

Dance films have a very set formula — think along the lines of “Save the Last Dance” with Julia Stiles. They begin by introducing the main protagonist, a person who has dedicated their entire life to perfecting their technique, yet something is either missing from their performance or their career is derailed. Enter the rebellious newcomer; naturally talented with seemingly little care for the amount of work that others may have put in to gain a spot in the company, this character always turns the world upside-down. Whether it’s their unorthodox style or simply the fact that they are somehow effortlessly better than the entire dance corps, there is always something intriguing, and off-limits, about this new person. 

Though “And Then We Danced” follows this classic narrative with little flexibility, there are small moments sprinkled throughout the film that set it apart from the generic movies that often come out of powerhouses like Netflix. The opening ten minutes are efficient — they introduce the intensity of a Georgian dance rehearsal and both the mental and physical toll it takes with barely a word from any of the characters. In barely two scenes, “And Then We Danced” establishes a base for its story that takes some films thirty minutes. 

Not only are we introduced to Merab’s (Levan Gelbakhiani, debut) current world, we also watch the moment everything changes with the unexpected entrance of Irakli (Bachli Valishvili, “Until 1 PM”). Silence cuts through the scene and the studio floor becomes divided; it is no longer an internal struggle between company dancers vying for duet opportunities. Now, the question lies in how this newcomer is going to affect the already delicate balance of the company. The story unfolds predictably — Irakli is a talented dancer, better than most, and his carefree attitude upsets the status quo. Little else is said, but as the scene comes to a close the audience watches Merab gaze at Irakli, prompting a sense of fascination with this new character. 

The next step in most dance films is to address the tension between our two new protagonists. Will they train together? Will they compete? Potentially both? Whatever way a film chooses to bring them together, the chemistry between the two characters must be clear. “And Then We Danced” takes little stock in conversation. Instead, the connection between Irakli and Merab is highlighted with a dance. The first time we see the two dance together is also the first time Merab is shown actually enjoying himself at rehearsal — his movements become more fluid, his performance imbued with a healthier sense of self in relation to Georgian dance. It’s the first time we see him at ease on the studio floor, and it’s beautiful to watch. 

“And Then We Danced” is a typical coming-of-age dance story. It highlights the sacrifices that people make when they try to monetize their art, and the effect that emotion can have on the way art is seen in the world. The minute someone puts their creative ventures on display, they risk facing the kind of debilitating rejection that can take away all of the passion needed to create art well. At the same time, though, if an artist has found a certain level of confidence, an understanding of both themselves and their art, this passion is untouchable. Throughout “And Then We Danced,” the audience watches as Merab struggles with this understanding, eventually finding it in heartbreak.