Levan Gelbakhiani, ‘And Then We Danced,’ Interviewed

Interviewed during the Berinale

If we take Georgian national dance, of course, it's a fantastic show and experience, - young Georgian actor Levan Gelbakhiani, winner of the Berlinale Shooting Star Award for the main role in the film ‘And Then We Danced,’ told GEORGIA TODAY when we met him during the Berlinale. “It's perfection. Yet at the same time it's complicated: in my opinion, everything you do has to express your personal identity, the political situation and the sociocultural moment in time. Georgian Dance is no exception, and there is a chance to express all this through dance. For example, the ‘Marry Me in Bassiani’ performance in France, with a group that consisted of 12 Georgian dancers, staged by (La)Horde: a performance that used traditional Georgian dance elements, yet the message was far deeper than what we traditionally find when we watch Georgian dance, where you see only the beautiful form and refined movements and feel the powerful energy. Tradition needs to find new meanings and new values, and it should not lose its identity.

“The ‘Marry Me in Bassiani’ performance in France was really very impressive because it dealt with a whole number of important challenges of our time: our current political situation, social evils, our sexuality issues related with the notion of virginity, the problems related to the overhauled perception of marriage in Georgian culture and premature marriages,” Gelbakhiani notes. “All this is communicated through the language of dance, which is extraordinary, because all of us know that Georgian national dance is something that represents our cultural heritage. Sure, it needs to be preserved, but it shouldn’t be frozen. Take the dance of Kintauri. Which minority groups stand behind it? Nowadays, Kintauri is performed as if it's a traditional Georgian dance and does not show any queer emotion behind it, although it was based on the tradition of queer dance and was inspired by and brought into life by queer dancers. Kintauri is now performed with dancers wearing loose, baggy trousers and a red handkerchief, whereas the true origin and the queer background of the dance is completely ignored and forgotten. Georgian dance today [if frozen] wouldn't communicate any values except those of perfection, aesthetic form, and refinement of movement, making this rich tradition of dance quite superficial.”

Georgian dance has always been part of the Caucasian cultural tradition.

I think if Georgians found out where the traditional Georgian costume Chokha originated, they would be deeply astonished. Chokha was not something created by the Georgians: it is originally a Caucasian costume from this region. It’s not the spiritual property of the Georgians, nor was it invented by them. It is in the same way the national costume worn by the Armenians and by the Azerbaijani, by Ossetians and others folks living in the Caucasus. The problem with Georgians is that we appropriate everything, saying, “this and that is ours,” which is not true. Of course, it is ours in a different sense, but we have to seek an adequate form of expressing what is ours and what we own. It cannot be that everything was invented by the Georgians or belongs to Georgian culture, and Georgia cannot be the origin of the world. Indeed, diversity is far more interesting when it is mixed, and other people interpret the same culture in their different and special ways.

How would you define masculinity, and how is it defined in Georgian dance? What would be the differences in other cultures, e.g. in the West?

The definition of masculinity differs from country to country and there is no single definition of what a man should be like. For me, the definition of masculinity is different from what the majority of Georgians imagine. When times change and one has to adapt to a new epoch, you cannot dazzle anyone running around with a sword, which would be the traditional notion. Times and necessities change, and there is no need to wave a sword or show fists now, because other challenges exist before us. Violence is not a way out and being a real man doesn’t mean being violent.

What about feminism in Georgia?

Well, feminism is very much developed in Georgia, especially the involvement of women in politics and sociocultural processes. Indeed, even family role stereotypes have positively changed, with both parents bringing up kids. Georgia was one of the first countries to introduce votes for women, I think even earlier than Switzerland, which also shows how tolerant the Georgians are as a culture. This aspect of tolerance was in part destroyed by the totalitarian Soviet rule and reactionary Muslim influences. However, women have a right to work and the role models for men and women in Georgian society have recently changed very positively. Yet, what function do men have in a society with two million emigrants, most of them women? If they claim their masculinity, saying that they're cool, why does this nation have two million people living outside Georgia? And why are the majority of these women? These women earn money abroad and provide for their families, while their husbands spend this money drinking or in casinos. It is an enormous problem. We are equals: men and women are equal, and the roles of men and women in society have to be redefined, because a woman is not only a mother, not only here to take care of cooking and cleaning up. And the fact is that the whole country depends on the money of women who work outside of Georgia and provide for their families. If you have a look at the contemporary political and social situation in Georgia, all the structures and institutions are in crisis.

What did ‘And Then We Danced’ give you personally?

It definitely raised my self-awareness: it was a moment of awakening. It also transformed my perception of the world and our consciousness. I discovered a lot of things in myself and I started to value Georgian culture in a different and deeper way. In particular, I re-evaluated Georgian dance, because this dance tradition was perceived by me in a more repressive way, as something that you have to obey and something that is pressed on you. Tradition is thought of by the younger generation as subordination and violence, as something that is violently imposed upon them, because traditions are carried on in a disfigured form. Not that there is any problem with tradition, but these are misinterpreted in contemporary Georgian reality. That’s why tradition is perceived now as something negative, although it is a source for real inspiration, self-identification, and one cannot really evolve without knowing one’s past. Knowing the problems and mistakes of the past can help a person build their future.

Did this film free you, more than you were before?

Yes, I became free and this film helped me a lot. It raised my self-confidence and it helped me to re-evaluate my values. Of course, you cannot be absolutely free due to society and cultural pressures. There are always certain limits and you always ask yourself how other people see you. Yet this film immensely contributed to my personal growth. I found inner peace and freedom with it.

What will you do now: continue as a dancer or go on with acting?

Well, I wouldn’t like to lose dancing because this is something I really love. Dancing inspires me spiritually; I get a different sort of emotional energy when I dance, and there's spiritual connectivity coming from it. I wouldn’t like to lose the spiritual connection with myself that comes from dance.

I'll go for acting for sure. I've been acting in amateur theaters and commercials since childhood, and now I’ve started out on a professional acting career. I believe acting is also a significant means of conveying a message and communicating with people. One should always use one's profession in order to present a certain message: it is a sort of activism.

By Lily Fürstenow-Khositashvili

19 March 2020 18:02