First Position movie holds first place in ballet viewers’ hearts

| March 31, 2013 | 0 Comments
Rebecca Houseknecht waiting backstage. Photo courtesy Visit Films

Rebecca Houseknecht waiting backstage. Photo courtesy First Position Films.

At least 5000 enter the competition, and then only a couple hundred make it to New York. You have five minutes on stage to prove why you deserve this chance.

These words, heard on the First Position movie, refer to the Youth America Grand Prix finals, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions and also one of the most grueling.

First Position – Bess Kargman’s award-winning ballet documentary – follows the lives of six young dancers aged 10 to 17, as they prepare themselves for this competition, pursuing their dreams for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet.

Behind the scenes of the First Position film

Lights, Camera, Action! Photo courtesy First Position Films.

First Position Films

Peek backstage

However, the movie is so very much more than seeing if the dancers win or lose. Instead, it gives us a backstage peek into the onstage and offstage lives of the dancers, including their everyday habits and routines – what they eat, how they train, when they play, how they train, how they train and how they train.

Yes, these youngsters are performing at such a high level, that they’ve sacrificed many aspects of their childhood and replaced it with sheer dedication and focus. Nothing short of perfection is expected, but we get to see how the dancers fight exhaustion, injuries, home-sickness and their own self-confidence in their never-ceasing achievement of that perfection.

It’s sometimes edge-of-your-seat, sometimes heart-in-your-throat viewing, where you anxiously watch the dancers slip and fall but also triumphantly succeed. It all makes for the most thrilling, exhilarating and deeply heart-warming true story.

See this trailer for an excellent introduction to the movie:

Meet the six young and tremendously talented ballet stars

Apart from their obvious talent and charm, the dancers also seem to have been purposely selected to challenge and break old ballet stereotypes – showing that not all boy dancers are gay, not all girls are anorexic divas, dancers aren’t all privileged and rich, and you don’t have to be white to succeed.

The beautifully dynamic Michaela DePrince

The beautifully dynamic Michaela DePrince. Photo courtesy First Position Films.

In fact, Michaela DePrince, an adopted war-refugee from Sierra Leone who was 14 at the time of filming, wanted to prove to the competition judges, and the world, that black dancers could be just as graceful as any of her fellow white competitors. South African audiences were certainly wowed by her beautiful grace and strength when she was invited by SA Mzansi Ballet to perform as Kitri in select performances in their recent season of Don Quixote.

At just 12 years old, Miko Fogarty – half-Japanese, half-American – has a strength that startles, not just in her ballet technique, but in her absolute determination. However, despite her mother’s best persuasive efforts, Miko’s younger brother Jules just doesn’t see his ballet career in quite the same way.

But like Miko, we see a similar dedication from Aran Bell, 11, who has to travel two hours every day from his father’s military base in order to attend class with (the slightly eccentric) Denys Ganio in Rome.

Talented Joan Sebastian Zamora on stage

The movie had us rooting for the humble and talented Joan Sebastian Zamora. Photo courtesy First Position Films.

The handsome Joan Sebastian Zamora, 16, needed to travel much further though. He had to say goodbye to his family and home in Colombia, through great sacrifice of his parents, to allow him to train in New York. He’s working incredibly hard, hoping to be noticed by the Royal Ballet – and the movie has you tightly crossing every finger and toe on his behalf too.

Self-proclaimed American ‘princess’, Rebecca Houseknecht, 17, is a strikingly beautiful blonde with an equally beautiful ballet talent. She’s faced with the choice of either attending college, or finding a job with a professional company. She desperately wants the latter, but that heavily depends on her performance at the upcoming competition.

As a bonus character, we also get to see the delightful Gaya Bommer Yemini, 11, from Israel, as she develops a wonderfully touching and supportive friendship with Aran on the competition circuit.

First Position movie posterBest supporting roles

Talking of support, the documentary wouldn’t be a documentary if we didn’t also hear the perspectives of the teachers and parents, which adds much to the emotional depth and breadth of just what’s at stake for these families.

With all the right touches of drama, suspense and feel-good inspiration, First Position makes for a marvelously uplifting film.

If you missed the recent South African screenings at the Joburg Theatre, you can either buy the DVD or ‘rent’ it via Amazon here: First Position

P.S. This is an affiliate link, meaning that BodyMindBallet will receive a small commission if you use this link to make a purchase, helping us fund the work on this website. Of course, we’ll only ever share high-quality products that we think you might enjoy.

P.P.S. If you want to see more pictures from the movie, head over to the photo gallery here.

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Category: Performance

About the Author ()

Hi, I'm Robynn, and I'm a student of the potential of the body, the marvels of the mind, and the beauty of it all combined in ballet. As the editor, BodyMindBallet is where I get to learn, to share and to enjoy this wide world of dance - and with every day I gain an ever richer respect for the athleticism of dance and the skill of performance artistry.

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