For the young dancers at the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world's most prestigious ballet competitions, lifelong dreams are at stake. With hundreds competing for 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.
Every year, more than 5,000 aspiring dancers worldwide, ages 9-19, enter the Grand Prix, hoping to win scholarships, kudos and job contracts. Out of that number, only 300 make it into the New York City finals.Although all six of helmer Kargman's subjects have sacrificed a so-called "normal" childhood for their art, and share tenacity, dedication and maturity beyond their years, their backstories differ vastly. The pic intelligently delves into their home lives, spending time with them and their families so that viewers can understand what has shaped them.Adopted from an orphanage in Sierra Leone as a tot by a warmly supportive Jewish family in Philadelphia, Michaela DePrince, 14, matter-of-factly shares recollections of her birth parents' murder and of being unable to save a teacher dismembered by rebel soldiers. She longs to prove that black ballerinas can be as delicate and graceful as any others.
Serious Joan Sebastian Zamora, 16, from Cali, Colombia, trains in New York under the tutelage of a former American Ballet Theater dancer. Every time he calls home, he is reminded about the sacrifices his parents make on his behalf and their high expectations of him.Beautiful, blonde all-American princess Rebecca Houseknecht, 17, from suburban Maryland, appears to have it all: looks, talent and the perfect ballet body. She aspires to join a professional company rather than attend college, even though such jobs are increasingly scarce.Half-Japanese Miko Fogarty, 12, from Palo Alto, Calif., also wants to be a professional, an aspiration that her mother tries to force on her younger brother, Jules, even though he lacks his sister's artistry and interest.Meanwhile, Aran Bell, 11, won't allow anything to prevent him from dancing. The son of a navy doctor, he travels two hours every day from his father's military base to Rome in order to train with Denys Ganio, former principal dancer of the Ballet Marseilles.
Rounding out Kargman's pool of well-chosen subjects is astonishingly emotive Israeli pixie Gaya Bommer Yemini, also 11 and equally adept in ballet and modern dance. She's Bell's best friend on the competition circuit and the daughter of noted Israeli choreographer Nadine Bommer.As the articulate youngsters evince personality, poise and passion as well as physical grace and a necessary resilience, their parents and instructors provide another perspective on the true costs for them to follow their dreams (and in their varied attitudes toward the success of their offspring, the adults also provide much of the film's humor).Helmer Kargman, once a young dancer herself, demonstrates ample knowledge of and passion for ballet life. Her crisply shot, smartly assembled pic provides, without pandering, an inspiring human-interest story that will hold up well under repeat viewings. Movie In HD
Final credits bring viewers up to date with the subjects' lives post-Grand Prix.Camera (color, DV), Nick Higgins; editors, Kate Amend, Kargman; music, Chris Hajian; sound, Eric Thomas (Dolby Digital); associate producers, Jennilyn Merten, Nick Higgins. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Kids), Sept. 15, 2011. Running time: 90 MIN.With unprecedented (and exclusive) access to the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools, First Position takes audiences on a yearlong journey around the world. At a time when art, music and dance for children are severely under-funded, the film reveals the struggles and success, the pain and extraordinary beauty of an art form so many children across the globe are determined to dedicate their lives to- despite the odds.
In the competitive world of classical dance, practice, discipline and perfection are paramount. First Position is a documentary that follows six young dancers as they compete for awards and elite scholarships at one of the most prestigious children’s ballet competitions in the world: the Youth America Grand Prix.
Dancers from around the globe travel to New York each year for this hard-earned chance to compete. Eleven-year-old Aran lives in Naples, Italy, with his United States– military family and travels two hours every morning to practice with his French ballet teacher in Rome. Adopted from an orphanage in Sierra Leone when she was very young, fourteen-year-old Michaela dreams of going to the American Ballet Theatre’s JKO School. Seventeen-year-old Rebecca is finishing high school, looks like the quintessential classical ballet dancer and hopes to find a paid position with a corps de ballet, even though opportunities are slim. In a ballet-driven family, ten-year-old Jules and twelve-year-old Miko train together daily, but differ in their passion and commitment to the art form. Born in Colombia but separated from his family because of training, sixteen-year-old Joan works tirelessly in the hopes of landing a scholarship with the Royal Ballet School in London.
Director Bess Kargman interviews the competitors, their families, their ballet teachers and choreographers, and we learn of the many sacrifices — physical, emotional and financial — all for the sake of ballet. The kids’ love for dance helps them struggle through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries, all while navigating the drama and changes that come with adolescence.These beautiful and graceful dancers make it all seem so effortless onstage, yet entering the world of professional ballet and making it a career requires an extra reserve of tenacity, talent and passion. First Position introduces us to some of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow. Be prepared to be moved and inspired by their stunning and memorable performances.