Directed by Bess Kargman
Starring Aran Bell, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Michaela Deprince, Jules Jarvis Fogarty, Miko Fogarty, Rebecca Houseknecht and Joan Sebastian Zamora
Friday, Oct. 12 – Tuesday, Oct. 16
Now playing at Garneau Theatre (8712 109 St.)
“People don’t realize how hard it is to make it as a dancer.”
What many perceive as an effortless and beautiful art form proves to be anything but in Bess Kargman’s dance documentary, First Position. This breathtaking film gives a glimpse into the lives of seven dancers as they prepare for one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions, the Youth America Grand Prix. Aran, Miko, Jules, Rebecca, Joan Sebastian, Gaya and Michaela all prove that ballet is not for the faint of heart, and can take up to a lifetime to perfect.
Throughout the film, Kargman examines the diversity of the dancers’ backgrounds. From a boy teased by his friends for dancing to an orphan from West Africa determined to have a happy ending, each of these kids have their own story that will move you and have you rooting for them as they prepare for the competition ahead.
One thing that’s gleaned from their preparations is the time-consuming nature of their craft. When they’re not performing, the dancers are strengthening and stretching their limbs in preparation for their next routine. Miko is even homeschooled so she has more time to practice, spending more hours perfecting her dance than her parents spend at work. In Aran’s house, equipment meant to stretch his legs and strengthen the arches of his feet are casually placed alongside his skateboard and BB gun. “Kids who pursue ballet as a career give up a lot of their childhood,” Aran’s mother notes.
The film also demonstrates the toll dancing takes on a dancer’s body, and the injuries inflicted on the kids will leave you wincing in sympathy. Blistered and bruised feet, broken ankles, torn tendons — the list goes on. A dancer is always at risk of hurting themselves, and when that happens, they try to work through the pain rather than miss out on a performance. If there’s one thing First Position is clear about, it’s that there’s no room for delicate flowers in ballet.
And then there’s the competition itself. After years of practicing, each student is only given five minutes on stage to prove that they have what it takes to become a great dancer, and it’s amazing how much pressure these performers are able to endure. Rebecca’s only 17 years old and is expected to find employment by the end of the finals. Joan Sebastian, 16, is pushed by his parents to win a scholarship with his performance. As they compete against each other and 300 other soloists for the same awards, the tension is palpable.
Even though the first half of the film stresses the difficulties of dancing and how time consuming and painful it is, all is forgotten the minute each dancer steps on stage. They immediately transform into graceful creatures, flying across the floor in quick measured movements. The whole performance is exhilarating, and is a reminder of why these kids or so perseverant in their work — they know that they are creating something beautiful and amazing.
First Position ultimately succeeds in capturing both the magic and struggles of ballet. Indeed, viewers may never take dance for granted again after watching these students do whatever it takes to achieve their dream career.
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