Director: Bess Kargman
Stars: Aran Bell, Gaya Bommer Yemini, Michaela dePrince, Jules Jarves Forgarty, Miko Forgarty, Rebecca Houseknecht, and Joan Sebastian Zamora
Fist Position is a documentary about dance, specifically ballet. And though I am not a fan of ballet, I do appreciate the skill, talent, and dedication required to perform and be great at it.
Aran Bell is eleven and a protegé. His military family is stationed in Italy, he commutes two hours daily to dance class and practices for five hours, is home schooled, and loves to dance. Michaela dePrince is fourteen, orphaned by war in Sierra Leone, adopted by an American family, struggles against preconceived notions of black ballet dancers, and wanted to be a ballerina since she saw one on the cover of a magazine in her orphanage. Miko Fogarty is twelve, precocious, and has a mother who set out to learn all that she could about dance in order to help and encourage her daughter. Joan Sebastian Zamora is sixteen/seventeen, from Columbia but studying in New York, is incredibly talented, and wants nothing more than to continue to dance and earn a scholarship in order to alleviate his parents burden. Rebecca Houseknecht is sixteen/seventeen, loves pink, and is the most “typical” teenager of the bunch.
The most impressive aspect of all these dancers is their dedication to and love of dance. None of these dancers are victims of stage parents, but willing artists that feel a need to dance. Also impressive is the sacrifices their families make in order to aid and encourage them. Aran’s father was meant to be stationed back in the United States, but there would be no dance school anywhere near his assignment. Rather than rob his son of his passion, he chose to serve another tour-of-duty in the Middle East in order for Aran and his wife to stay in Italy. Miko’s father moved his company’s offices. Joan Sebastian’s family have let him go to New York in order to follow his passion.
All these stories are brought together in each dancer’s quest to succeed at the Youth America Grand Prix. Depending on their age, some compete for recognition, others for scholarships, and others for employment contracts with dance companies. The Grand Prix holds auditions throughout the world where approximately 5,000 dancers audition, 300 are selected to perform in New York, and only a few of those realize their dreams.
Bess Kargman, the director, is adept at introducing each dancer, and allowing you to get invested in their story and circumstance. Kargman is also excellent at showing us little scenes that reveal much. During the scenes expressing the costs involved with ballet, Aran’s mother shares that Aran will only get his outfits from one person back in the States–in other words he knows what he likes and isn’t afraid to ask for it. Miko’s tough coach is reasonable. After an admittedly pedestrian performance, Jules–Miko’s much less talented brother–says that their coach will say his performance was good, still needs a little work, and will focus on its positives; letting us know the coach is aware that Jules is neither as talented nor driven as Miko, and as such should not be pushed like Miko.
Whether by choice or lack of footage, the only negative for the documentary was missing back story for Joan Sebastian. Specifically, I wanted to know how he got to New York. Was he discovered? Did he have a scholarship to the school he was attending, or were his parents sacrificing everything for his education?
First Position is well paced, and delivers tension as the awards are given during the finals of the Grand Prix. Much like Wordplay a few years ago, I was completely engaged in a subject matter I typically have no interest in.
Grade = A-
PS. Aran Bell is a little stud. During the semi-finals in Italy for the Grand Prix he befriended Gaya Yemini, another dancer in his age group. With families in tow, they both went out on a date–for lack of a better word–in which he was sporting jeans, t-shirt, and sports jacket looking like a complete lady-killer.