FILM PREVIEW: First Position
First Position is a documentary tracking young ballet dancers in competition for the the annual Youth America Grand Prix.
Outsiders of the dance world often marvel at the discipline, commitment and sheer tenacity of those trying to be professionals in the business.
Dancers however, never think twice about what it takes to make it. Raised on the mantra “no pain, no gain,” they often thrive under high pressure and high expectations. To them, all this effort is common sense. If you really want it, you are singularly-focused on the pursuit of a career in dance. If you lack the passion, you quit early. It is simple.
WORTH CHEERING FOR
First Position, a documentary tracking young ballet dancers in competition for the the annual Youth America Grand Prix never questions its subjects in the validity of their dreams. It takes a straight faced and honest approach to a life in the arts. Tomorrow when the film opens, it will have two audiences: those who question the insanity of the quest of professional ballet and those who live it daily. The reactions to the film may also be split along these lines.
First Position tells the compelling and diverse stories of 6 dancers in the running for the prestigious YAGP. We see them from their beginning preparations for regional competitions through to the grueling days of finals in New York City. Director Bess Kargman not only exhibits the unrelenting daily routine of stretching, technique class, private tutoring and variation coaching but also cleverly sneaks in bigger dance issues of economic cost, parental involvement, supposed loss of childhood and social life of dancers (or lack thereof). As in most documentaries that center around a youth competition, every kid is worth cheering for.
You might be irreversibly captured by Michaela, the 14-year-old black dancer and adopted orphan from Sierra Leone who conquered every odd along the way and still faces career doubts because of race. Or perhaps you are touched by the incredible sacrifices made by Miko and Jules’ parents to find them the best ballet training in town. You could easily be swept away in the friendship of Gaya from Israel and Aran, whose naval family relocated to Italy. You may sympathize with 17-year-old Rebecca who is exceptional, but in a league of thousands looking for the same job positions. You may wonder what it would be like to leave home for years at a time like Columbian dancer Joan Sebastian. Or you may know, because you may have done the same.
There will be two audiences: those who question the insanity of the quest of professional ballet and those who live it daily. The reactions to the film may also be split along these lines.
Fundamentally, this film raises the same questions about the business that have been raised for decades. After all the dollars poured into training, costumes, competitions and transit how can the minimum wage salaries of dancers be justified? Should kids be trained so rigorously so early? If kids are not trained so rigorously so early will they even have a shot? What happens if a dancer gets injured and never reaches the top?
But on a more relatable level, this film is about pursuits of passion and the insanity that accompanies them. At the root of all these demi-pliés and developpes we find more common ground: support systems, mentorship, goals. In any career, these things exist. What makes professional dance unique are its statistics. Every dancer knows from the beginning that it will be near impossible to make a career from their skill. They also know that even when they are at the top, the odds for staying there are still stacked. And yet this is the equation that somehow makes it so inspiring. It is highly doubtful anyone will come out of First Position hoping they had all been businessmen, even if it seemed more sensible at first.
Go see the film. And if you can, go with a dancer.
Produced and directed: Bess Kargman
Director of photography: Nick Higgins
Editor: Ms. Kargman and Kate Amend
Music: Chris Hajian
Released: Sundance Selects
Run time: 1 hour 34 minutes