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The Little launches ‘Virtual Little’ streaming and YouTube channel 

click to enlarge Bachi Valishvili and Levan Gelbakhiani in the Georgian coming-of-age drama, "And Then We Danced."

PHOTO COURTESY MUSIC BOX FILMS

Bachi Valishvili and Levan Gelbakhiani in the Georgian coming-of-age drama, "And Then We Danced."

This week The Little Theatre announced the launch of its The Virtual Little series, through which patrons can rent-to-stream select films for limited times. On Friday, March 27, “And Then We Danced” will be available to rent through The Virtual Little for $12, with half that amount going directly to The Little.

Other titles available through The Virtual Little include the genre-bending Brazilian thriller “Bacurau,” about a rural village whose citizens must band together to ward off a deadly threat to their close-knit community, and “Saint Frances,” about a nanny who finds an unlikely friendship with the six-year old she's charged with protecting. Rental of the latter film also includes a free rental of the cats-in-Istanbul documentary “Kedi.” You can also check out The Little Theatre’s newly-launched YouTube channel, featuring original content and short video features created by The Little’s production team.

Here’s my take on the first film in the series, “And Then We Danced”:

Sweden's official submission for the Best International Feature Film Oscar, “And Then We Danced,” is a tender coming-of-age drama set in the world of dance in Tbilisi, Georgia. Written and directed by Swedish-born filmmaker Levan Akin (who is of Georgian descent), the film faced a fair amount of controversy during production, and screenings in the country even sparked protests and condemnations from the country’s conservative politicians.

Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) is a devoted dancer who has trained for years with his longtime partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili) for a spot in the National Georgian Ensemble. Steeped in the country’s rich heritage, the traditional folk dances they perform employ a strict adherence to conventional gender roles. Their stern instructor Aleko (Kakha Gogidze) constantly criticizes Merab’s more effeminate style of movement (“You should be hard as a nail! There’s no room for weakness!”). And there are the rumors that a former male dancer in the ensemble was kicked out of the troupe for having sex with another man.

Merab waits tables by night, and he provides the major source of income for the cramped apartment he shares with his divorced mother, grandmother, and his ne'er-do-well older brother David (Giorgi Tsereteli), who also dances in the ensemble — at least when he’s sober enough to rehearse.

But the arrival of an immensely talented and a bit cocky new male student, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) to the dance troupe — and the unexpected feelings he stirs in Merab — may threaten things. The two young men find themselves in competition, but as they spend time rehearsing together, their rivalry soon blossoms into a romantic relationship.

Merab’s relationship with Irakli, in addition to his tentative exploration of Tbilisi’s underground gay scene, allows him to find reservoirs of strength he never knew before. Spurred by the gradual realization of his feelings toward Irakli, he struggles to find the confidence to be open about who he truly is and grab hold of the freedom he’s been longing to experience.

If you’ve seen many contemporary LGBT coming-of-age stories, the narrative here will likely feel familiar. But Akin directs with confidence, and loads his film with such specificity of setting and performance that it breathes fresh life into its somewhat conventional framework. The filmmaker’s unobtrusive style doesn’t call attention to itself, aside from one bit of flashy camerawork during a heightened central scene that consists of a single, lengthy tracking shot.

The intimacy of Merab and Irakli romance draws us in, but the filmmaker finds additional emotional depths in the sometimes fraught relationship between brothers Merab and David, which becomes just as critical to the film as the love story at its center. Bonus points because I’m a sucker for any film with a soundtrack that puts pop singer Robyn to good use.

Both a coming-of-age story and a passionate romance, the deeply moving “And Then We Danced” interrogates a restrictive culture that’s stuck in the past. It ultimately suggests that the only way forward will come from those brave individuals who can find the strength to subvert and shake its foundations.

Adam Lubitow is a freelancer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to becca@rochester-citynews.com.

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