An inspirational and first-rate documentary about young aspiring dancers, director Bess Kargman’s First Position chronicles a handful of incredible hopefuls at the Youth America Grand Prix—a ballet competition that narrows 5,000 semi-finalists to 300 finalists and awards scholarships and medals to only a few dozen dancers ages 9-19.
One of the film’s most interesting subjects is Michaela, a 14 year-old student at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance, who was adopted after being orphaned in her native Sierra Leone during the country’s civil war. Dreaming of being a ballet dancer, Michaela wants to break the stereotypes about black dancers not being graceful—but first she has to overcome career-threatening tendonitis.
Another fascinating competitor is Aran, the 11 year-old son of a military family living in Italy, who, like the other young men in the film, resists stereotypes about male ballet dancers. The other subjects are equally compelling—from Joan Sebastian, a 16 year-old living in New York, far from his family in Colombia, to Miko and Jules, sibling in Palo Alto, California, and Rebecca, a pink-loving “Princess” in Maryland. All of the subjects are seen practicing and at home, and each one is interviewed about the hard work, discipline, expense, and pressure of wanting a career in ballet.
First Position has viewers rooting for all of these kids who give up their childhoods to potentially live their dreams, and it is hard not to be breathless during their performances, and choked up as the results are announced. Even viewers with a marginal interest in ballet will be moved by First Position.
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