DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
FIRST POSITION (director/writer: Bess Kargman; cinematographer: Nick Higgins; editors: Bess Kargman/Kate Amend; music: Chris Hajian; 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Bess Kargman; Sundance Selects/IFC Films; 2011-USA-in English, Spanish, French and Hebrew, with English subtitles when needed)

"It's enjoyable watching the motivated youngsters pirouetting their way to success."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The winsome, upbeat and moving documentary, another human interest Spellbound-like winner, by first-time director Bess Kargman. It smartly follows six talented and likeable young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, an intense competition attended by scouts from the leading dance companies. It's enjoyable watching the motivated youngsters pirouetting their way to success and following them at their practice sessions as they tenaciously live out their dreams. It also points out how difficult is their path in a field that is currently cutting back on dancers, so few are chosen in this cut-throat competitive field and where injuries are just as common as those in popular sports.

The Grand Prix competition attracts more than 5,000 aspiring dancers (ages 9-19) from around the world, who hope to win scholarships, recognition and job contracts. Out of that number, only 300 make it into the New York City finals.

The pic spends valuable time telling the interesting back-stories of the six contestants, and how they dedicate their lives to ballet and must give up a so-called normal childhood to realize their aspirations. The articulate children, their instructors and parents are interviewed and let on about the mental and physical challenges they experience and how costly it is to pursue their dream.

Aran Bell, 11, the fair-haired son of a navy doctor stationed in Naples, who loves ballet so much he travels two hours every day from his father's military base to Rome in order to train with Denys Ganio, former principal dancer of the Ballet Marseilles.

Israeli pixie Gaya Bommer Yemini, 11, is talented both in ballet and modern dance. She's the daughter of noted Israeli choreographer Nadine Bommer.

Michaela DePrince, 14, was adopted as a toddler from the orphanage of the war-torn African country of Sierra Leone by a supportive older Jewish couple in Philadelphia. Her birth parents were murdered by rebel soldiers. Michaela yearns to have a career in ballet and prove that black ballerinas can be as delicate and graceful as whites.

Joan Sebastian Zamora, 16, from Cali, Colombia, trains under a former American Ballet Theater dancer in New York while his family remains in Cali. The serious-minded youngster is grateful about the sacrifices his parents make on his behalf and hopes to live up to their high expectations of him.

Blonde beauty Rebecca Houseknecht, 17, from suburban Maryland, aspires to join a professional company rather than attend college, and seems to have the talent and looks to be a success.

Half-Japanese Miko Fogarty, 12, from Palo Alto, Calif., aspires with all her heart to be a professional. Her pushy mother tries to force ballet on her younger brother, Jules, even though he lacks his sister's ability or interest in dancing.

Kargman, a ballet dancer as a youth and a graduate from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism in 2008, has the passion and knowledge of her subject and the film-making skill to make this a worthwhile film. What was left out was any critique of ballet competitions, that some argue is a detriment to the artistic integrity of ballet. A different opinion should of at least found some voice in the pic to make it more balanced, honest and believable.

REVIEWED ON 11/25/2012       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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