Any good documentary about a competition lets us know the people who are competing, the stakes involved and the drama of the competition itself. Unfortunately, “First Position” only gets two out of three.
Director Bess Kargman takes us behind the scenes at the Youth America Grand Prix, an international competition for young ballet dancers, ages 9 to 19. The movie shows us that the stakes are high, as the top finalists in the older categories get scholarships to prestigious dance academies or contracts to leading ballet troupes.
Kargman captures some indelible portraits of several young dancers, including: Michaela, a refugee from Sierra Leone trying to dispel stereotypes about black ballerinas; Miko and JJ, siblings with varying levels of motivation; Joan Sebastian, a Colombian lad using dance as a way out of poverty; and Rebecca, a pampered princess nicknamed “Barbie” at school because she’s bendy and wears pink a lot.
But while Kargman is great with the personalities, she skimps on the footage of the actual competition and doesn’t show us enough of the performance that make the preceding rehearsal heartbreak pay off.
Opens today at the Broadway Centre Cinemas; not rated, but probably PG for mild language and thematic issues; 94 minutes.