Review of First Position


Movie Review: "First Position"

--Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: May 4, 2012
Directed by: Bess Kargman
Genre: Documentary/Comedy/Drama

The world of ballet is one that was steeped in secrecy for many years. Whispers were heard about how hard it was, but little was ever confirmed. All anyone really knew about ballet was played out on the stage. With the documentary "First Position," Director Bess Kargman tries hard to open up the insular ballet world and show what really happens behind the scenes.

The film centers on the lives and struggles of six young ballet dancers who know that the odds are against them. Students, parents and teachers are all interviewed on camera saying that they know most of the cherubic-looking kids who are taking a class will not make it as a dancer. The children themselves know this as well, yet they continue to keep dancing and never lose hope.

All six children are ramping up to compete in the annual Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious dance competitions in the world. The Grand Prix awards scholarships for both children and schools alike based on the results of the competition. Classes of this caliber are not cheap, and in a failing economy, there is less and less money available for financial aid and scholarships. The Grand Prix was already a big deal, but considering the economic climate, it becomes an even bigger deal.

Michaela, Joan, Aran, Gaya and siblings Miko and Jules are all featured putting in long hours dancing. Some may protest that they work too hard, but they receive their education as well. Their parents admit that the kids work harder than they do, even as they fret that it may all lead to shattered dreams.

Director Kargman keeps the drama going through astute editing of the children as they treat their bruised and battered feet and experience anxiety. They are all shown in various states of nervousness as they put on their costumes and wait for their turn to perform in the Grand Prix, which can make or break their chances of succeeding as dancers.

Though the drama of who will or won't get a Grand Prix scholarship is a big focus, so is the hard work leading up to it. It would have been easy for Kargman to splice the film together to show a bunch of show business-obsessed parents who are pushing their kids into ballet. Instead, she reveals that it is often the children who demand to take classes.

Young Aran is shown explaining that ballet helps shape his life, but doesn't define it. He is confident, well spoken and very happy. Ballet is a big part of why he embodies all of those characteristics. It gives him something to focus on and adds structure to his life. In a world where young kids are dismissed as being lazy or having no drive, Aran and his fellow dancers prove them wrong.

There is also a heartwarming story about being rescued from certain death in war-torn Sierra Leone. Michaela was adopted from there by a couple who now want to help her live her dream. Her gratefulness for everything good that has happened to her is very obvious, even as she worries that none of it will be enough to help her be a career dancer.

Parents of children with no aim in life might find merit in showing "First Position" to their kids. The dancers depicted in the film have a goal and work towards it with great diligence. It may just inspire them to figure out what they want to do. At the very least, it shows the advantages of hard work and dedication.

The point of the film isn't that everyone who watches it should want to be a dancer, but that having a goal enriches your life. Although not doing well at the Grand Prix could be devastating, the audience gets the feeling that all six of the featured dancers will still go on. Viewers also get the feeling that ballet has imbued each of them with so much poise and confidence that even if they were injured or had to retire, it wouldn't be the end of the world for them.

There are a few tears and heartbreak at the end as the winners of the Grand Prix are announced. This gives the movie the feeling of being more of a scripted drama rather than the documentary that it is. The drama does not take away from the true focus of the film, though. That focus is the six kids and how hard work and ballet changed their lives for the better, no matter what the outcome of the Grand Prix is.