Monday, 8 April 2013


Hopscotch Films

Now Showing

Much like singing, dancing is something every person feels compelled to do; it's hard-wired into our DNA: when the rhythm starts to sway, so do our our hips. That's not to say everyone can sing or dance; certainly not professionally. There is a great divide between dancing and "dancing".

First Position, directed by Bess Kargman, follows six youngsters, ages 11 to 16, who can not only dance -- they were born to it. They have also chosen to pursue careers in arguably the most demanding of dance disciplines, ballet.

But forget the gentile inference of tutus, First Position reveals ballet to be a bloodsport, where the wounds are self-inflicted and the pressure is intense.

The six dancers -- mostly American; one is an Israeli girl based in Europe, another a Colombian boy living in New York -- are all preparing to compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world's premier dance competitions, where the best of the best are awarded scholarships to international dance academies and, for the older dancers (16-18), places with dance companies.

And while not all of these dancers' personal narratives are that compelling (17-year-old Rebecca Houseknecht seems to be a typical middle class, middle American white girl cheerleader) you root for them all: Sierra Leone-born Michaela DePrince, 14, who was adopted by middle-aged Jewish New Yorkers and is set to prove that black girls can do ballet; and 16-year-old Joan Sebastian Zamora, who left his village in Colombia to move to New York on his own to study dance and who hopes to become the first Latino to attend the Royal Dance Academy in London.

And then there are the precociously talented 11-year-old Aran Bell, and 12-year-old Miko Fogarty, for whom dance is their way of life. What were you doing at age 12? Whatever it was, these two will make you seem lazy and inferior by comparison.

There's nothing controversial or hard-hitting about First Position; there's no Black Swan-like stories here. Kargman's film isn't an expose of the brutal world of child ballet, of taskmaster teachers and stage parents, or the loss of childhood in pursuit of a dream.

What it is is an inspirational look at these children pursuing that dream, whilst simultaneously celebrating the beauty (and brutality) of the art of ballet.

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