This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 21st April 2013
Documentaries about children’s competitions are prime meat for filmmakers (think Spellbound and Please Vote for Me), and with the usually guileless charm of their juvenile subjects, this is understandable. First Position follows six promising young ballet dancers from as far as Colombia, Israel and the United States, as they train hard and perform harder in the Youth America Grand Prix, vying to gain acceptance at prestigious dance schools and professional ballet companies around the world.
What seems to work here is that the film relies less on the character of the children – there are no tantrums, no tears, no “special quirks” – but the fact that when each steps on stage, we are as breath-taken as the judges by their extraordinary talent. Aran’s family moves around the world with their military dad, ensuring Aran is always within reach of a top-class ballet instructor. Michaela was adopted from war-ravaged Sierra Leone as a toddler, and seems set to become one of the pre-eminent black ballerinas in America. Stage-mum of Miko and J-J weeps when one decides not to pursue a career.
This debut film from Bess Kargman has already won awards at festivals world-wide. It is ruthlessly honest in portraying the obsession and sacrifice, but as children as young as 10 describe putting up with aches and pains usually reserved for people several times their age, you can’t help but be in awe of their commitment.