First Position

Movies, Documentary
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First Position

The rigors of ballet training are fierce: foot sores, medieval stretches, a near-complete sacrifice of a young person’s free time. Easier, less costly ways must exist for a teen to learn of her darkening economic prospects than entering the Youth America Grand Prix, a top-flight international competition for dance scholarships and recognition. But enter they do: First Position follows six hopefuls, ranging from 14-year-old Michaela—a Sierra Leone–born Philadelphia adoptee who longs to fit her body into a rarefied form—to 17-year-old Rebecca—a self-described “princess” who seems born to get her lithe, blond way with things. Little kids, barely pubescent, home in on the action as well; it’s hard to limit your rooting interest to just one tutu-clad tyke.

Still, this material could have been assembled into a more creative and suspenseful narrative. (So you think you can make a dance movie that isn’t a clone of Fame or the geek-adorkable Spellbound?) Children twirl, cheekbones jutting out with drive, while trainers and parents yell off camera, a cello-supplanted, minor-key soundtrack providing instant ambition. Everything leads up to the big event, where little goes down that you haven’t already guessed. Director Bess Kargman, herself a former ballerina, deserves credit for capturing key performance moments that allow us to come to a finer appreciation of the art form (grace isn’t just a matter of speed or softness, but attitude). Yet she hasn’t taken the risks her subjects do; the doc feels preprogrammed when it could have been a real-life Black Swan.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Release date: Monday January 30 2012
Duration: 90 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Bess Kargman
1 person listening

I love the ballet so this was a perfect documentary for me, but I would even recommend it to someone who wasn't. Very well done, the kids who it follow are so sweet and motivated. It also uncovered a side of ballet that I was totally unaware of, I had no idea how ballerinas actually got their break into the 'real world' and this was super eye opening. Also the dancing portrayed is amazing, this kids are seriously talented.