|The marvelous 14-year-old Michaela DePrince in First Position|
Anyone addicted to Smash, or any of the so-called "reality" talent shows on TV will find First Position irresistible. Bess Kargman's suspenseful and entertaining documentary captures the real-life drama of exceptional teen ballet students from around the world training for the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix dance-off in New York City.
The YAGP is not exactly a competition, in the sense that the last contestant standing wins all the glory. Instead, it's a showcase that allows all the young dancers who qualify for the finals to perform in front of a panel of 30 judges representing ballet companies from all over the world. Their five minutes onstage might earn these kids a medal, a scholarship to a ballet school, or a professional contract—or send them back to the barre in obscurity. Kargman doesn't impose a narrative on the film; she lets the dancers, their families and trainers tell their own stories. But as her focus narrows to six finalists, the filmmaker invites us to ponder the collision of childhood with the grueling, terrible beauty and exaltation of the ballet life.
One can only imagine the thousands of hours of film Kargman and her globetrotting crew must have shot in the act of choosing their "stars." Every year, more than 5,000 dancers between the ages of 9 and 19 enter the YAGP, out of which only 300 make it into the finals. Kargman casts a wide net to come up with a handful of youthful contenders who exemplify what one judge describes as the ideal and necessary combination for a professional dancer: "Beauty, training, passion, and personality." (Read more)