Every year, thousands of aspiring dancers enter one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix, where lifelong dreams are at stake. In the final round, with hundreds competing for only a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. Bess Kargman’s award-winning documentary, First Position, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama of adolescence. A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, First Position paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow. — (C) IFC
D picked this documentary for me knowing how much I love ballet. Though the dancing here is, of course, paramount, there is so much more to these stories. If any of you doubt the athleticism of ballet dancers, this movie will make you a believer.
I found myself laughing, cringing, crying, and cheering as we meet the dancers; young phenom Aran Bell, survivor Michaela Deprince, siblings JJ & Miko Fogarty, high school “princess” Rebecca Houseknecht, struggling for a better life Joan Sebastian Zamora, and Aran’s young Isreali friend Gaya Bommer Yemini.
At just 11 years-old, Aran is a powerhouse, spinning and leaping like a mini Baryshnikov. As a military brat, the sacrifices his family members are willing to make differ from the others, but you can see he is not about to let those sacrifices go to waste. I would love to see how he grows and matures in the dance.
Michaela, adopted from war-torn Sierra Leone, combines her fierce determination with explosive strength in a graceful package. She is the embodiment of a childhood fantasy brought to life – through incredible hard work and commitment.
JJ & Miko‘s pursuit of balletic perfection is encouraged by their tiger mother, and financed by their entrepreneur father. You will be wondering if both of these children are as jazzed about a future in the arts as their mother is.
Of all the dancers, Joan Sebastian seemed the least inspired by dance. His motivation tips strongly to the financial. For him, a good showing at the Grand Prix means the opportunity for “nice things, his own apartment” (as his mother back home in Colombia reminds him).
Least interesting was Rebecca. She is, to me, the stereotypical privileged, suburban, high-school dancer. She’s beautiful, she’s talented, she’s spoiled, she’s a bit grating…I couldn’t really get invested in her story. She is a lovely dancer, though.
As our main dancers make their way to the competition, we meet Gaya, a young friend of Aran’s. She is introduced as almost an afterthought, but quickly earns her place in the spotlight. Though her classical ballet is beautiful, she truly shines when performing modern works. I am generally not a fan of the disjointed, dissident contemporary dances, but Gaya’s performances are mesmerizing.
If you are a dance fan, do yourself a favor and check out the bonus features; the full-length performances of our competitors, and some additional dances including Gaya’s Cartoon Girl, Aran’s Mad Hatter.
A dance-centric film would generally suffer on my Word of Mouth scale, not everyone appreciates the arts, after all ;-). This documentary, however, is about dreams and the dedication and hard work that goes into achieving them. I think anyone in my circle will find this movie interesting – and perhaps inspiring. I’m giving it the full 5 of 5.
First Position Official Trailer
Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 96%; Audience 87%