First Position | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

First Position

An engaging doc about young ballet dancers is both inspiring and a little troubling.

A young contenders with eyes on the prize
A young contenders with eyes on the prize

Ballet looks effortless, but its execution is anything but. For one thing, professional dancers begin rigorous training as small children. Bess Kargman's engaging documentary follows six kids, ages 9-17, as they train for and compete in the Youth America Grand Prix, which awards the scholarships and company placements necessary to pursue a professional career.

We see them practice, work with trainers and choreographers, squeeze in schoolwork, deal with family expectations and steel themselves for loss, as they compete for these precious career-making prizes against thousands of others. 

Most of these kids exhibit remarkable poise, rarely revealing any emotional turmoil. But you'll likely root hardest for the two teen-age underdogs — Joan Sebastian, who left his family behind in Colombia to train in New York City, and Michaela, a survivor of Sierra Leone's brutal civil war who worries she will be rejected for looking too black and athletic.

We also see them dance, and their talent is undeniable and thrilling to watch. But does the cultured nature of ballet give it a pass? Tiny bodies twisted to execute unnatural feats, the all-consuming pursuit and the domineering stage-parents would engender shrieks of outrage in another kids' activity. Kargman never addresses this directly, preferring a more even-handed (thus safer and more "inspirational") approach. Ballet may begin in youth, but these are big sacrifices to ask of the under-10 set. Starts Fri., June 15

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