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First Position (2011)
First Position is a 2011 documentary film directed by Bess Kargman.
When it comes to creative careers, choosing to become a ballet dancer is close to the most punishing one you could select. Starting from an age at which most children are still trying to master using a spoon while sitting upright, would-be ballet dancers train for hours a day in the finer points of the craft. Bloody feet and broken bones are the least of it. As a record of this kind of endeavor, Bess Kargman's crowd-pleasing but ultimately dissatisfying documentary First Position doesn't come close to conveying the level of dedication required to become even moderately competent in ballet. However, if you want to see a clutch of thoroughly talented and frighteningly motivated young dancers get put through their paces in the pursuit of a scholarship to a top-line dance school, then Kargman's film is the ticket.
Like any good comeptition documentarian, Kargman first shows viewers her contestants and then gives them an idea of the stakes involved in the run-up to the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix; not surprisingly, they're high indeed. The half-dozen or so young dancers that Kargman follows here, aged from 10 to 17, are the tiniest fraction of the 5,000 or so children who will compete in the semi-finals taking place in 15 cities around the world. Just about every one of Kargman's stars seems to have the makings of a famous ballet dancer--the problem is that pretty much every other dancer captured by the camera seems as good or better. There's a cliff-like ratio here in that the surplus of young talent dwarfs the precious few jobs and scholarships out there.In another film or even TV show about young competiting artists (Kargman's relentlessly bright and peppy style mirrors more the latter than the former), the stakes involved of one of the protagonists not making it are frequently more of the heartbreak variety. One thing that First Position makes clear is just how much each of these children have sacrificed to get to where they are. The father of the oldest dancer, 17-year-old Rebecca (who seems at times like she should be tearing up the set of My Sweet Sixteen), points out with some frustration that with what they've paid for her dancing education so far could have paid for a four-year stint in college. A brother and sister duo, Jules (age 10) and Miko (age 12), have parents so dedicated to ballet that the father actually moved his company's office so that they could live and work closer to where the kids trained. Joan, a 16-year-old from Columbia, is as determined to make his way in the world of ballet as any immigrant laborer; there's no going back for him. Just as impressive are the 11-year-old Aran, a preternaturally calm and self-possessed 11-year-old prodigy, and Michaela, a 14-year-old war orphan from Sierra Leone who pushes through injuries with a stoic determiantion.