Running Length: 94 minutes
Cast: Miko Fogarty, Jules Fogarty, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Aran Bell, Michaela DePrince, Rebecca Houseknetch
Director: Bess Kargman
Cinematography: Nick Higgins
Reminiscent of Spellbound and last year’s Jig, First Position follows the formula of these films as it follows a group of young ballet dancers as they compete for the coveted Youth America.Grand Prix.
One of ballet’s most prestigious competitions, the Grand Prix puts dancers between the ages of 9 and 18 in front of judges representing many of the world’s great companies and schools. As well as medals and awards, the prizes include scholarships and company positions.
The film follows several young hopefuls through their preparation and competition. The dancers are at different points in their careers. Aran is just eleven while Rebecca is about to graduate high school. Joan Sebastian has travelled from Colombia to New York to pursue his dream and make his family back home proud. Michaela is an orphan from Sierra Leone who is determined to dance despite the dance world dismissing black girls as being too muscular and athletic for ballet. Miko and Jules have a mother whose dedication to their dancing is almost frightening to watch.
All the dancers are articulate and manage to express how much ballet means to them, and how much winning a prize in this contest would mean to them. Alongside the dancers, we see the parents and teachers and get a sense of the enormous cost and sacrifice they have to make for their children to follow their dreams.
While there is nothing particularly new or innovative in the style or structure of the film, it’s engaging. The dancing is beautiful and well shot, even in the rehearsal studios. The dancers the director chooses to focus on are talented and personable and it’s easy to root for their success. The contest itself gives the film its dramatic focus. It’s clear the director – one a dancer herself- has a great affection for and understanding of her subject and this is part of what gives the film its unique charm.