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Cast: Aran Bell, Michaela DePrince, Miko Fogarty, Rebecca Houseknecht, Joan Sebastian Zamora
Director: Bess Kargman
Running time: 1:34
Rated: Not rated. In English/Spanish/French/Hebrew with subtitles. The reach-for-your-dream spectacle of TV competitions like “So You Think You Can Dance” has become a pop-culture narrative. But those trumped-up melodramas can’t come close to the real-life sacrifice, stunning talent and dedicated characters in “First Position,” a documentary about the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest and most prestigious ballet competition.
Child ballet dancer and former journalist Bess Kargman brings a dancer’s passion and insight to her directorial debut, illuminating the addictive magic and fierce demands of a ballet dancer’s life.
Kargman’s film focuses on five very different young dancers as they prepare for Youth America, which awards life-changing prizes including scholarships and jobs at the world’s top classical dance institutions. Most compelling are two dancers who have overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
Joan Sebastian Zamora, 16, the hope of his family in Cali, Colombia, lives with a fellow teenager in a bleak New York apartment and dreams of following Cuban Carlos Acosta, also a dark-skinned Latino, to England’s Royal Ballet.
And Michaela DePrince, 14, is a war orphan from Sierra Leone, adopted by a Jewish family in Philadelphia, who at the orphanage clung to a picture of a ballerina in Dance Magazine because “she just looked so happy and beautiful.” DePrince has lived through horrors (her mother starved to death after her father was killed) and overcome racist stereotypes to advance to the Grand Prix.
What all the dancers have in common are desire, discipline and spectacular talent.
These children are stunning – sleek, powerful, poised, capable of feats that most grown dancers couldn’t achieve.