Current Weather
The Spy FM

Young Dancers, Aiming For ‘First Position’

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
May 1, 2012

First Position follows in the spirit of such competition documentaries as Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom, tracking seven young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious ballet contest.

The first competitor we meet is a very mature 11-year-old named Aran Bell. His father’s in the military. He likes to skateboard and jump on his pogo stick.

Bell began dancing when he was 4 years old, and when he hits the stage, he turns and leaps with the poise and fire of a professional.

“I just love ballet so much,” Bell says, “It’s hard to explain.”

That passion is evident in almost all of the dancers in First Position. But their personal stories are very different. There’s a 16-year-old who moves to New York by himself from his native Colombia in search of opportunities. There’s 14-year-old Michaela DePrince, who was adopted from Sierra Leone when she was a toddler.

We learn about Michaela’s extraordinary journey from an orphanage in her West African home country to becoming a part of a New Jersey family. And, as with all of the young competitors in the film, we see her perform — in rehearsal with her teachers, and before the judges and a live audience.

The film also follows the dancers’ parents to see the sacrifices they make — among them Michaela’s mom Elaine DePrince, who makes most of her daughter’s costumes.

“These little undergarments they wear under their tutus, they don’t come in dark brown,” she says. “I dye all these things for a brown girl, because they’re all what we call ‘flesh color.’ Well, white flesh color.”

First Position was made by former dancer and first-time filmmaker Bess Kargman, who made a point of following a diverse range of hopefuls.

“Not all ballet dancers are white,” Kargman says. “Not all ballet dancers are rich. Not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, and not all stage parents are psycho.”

But finding those families was a challenge. There are some 5,000 young people — ages 9 to 19 — who try to make it to the Youth America Grand Prix. And they’re spread out around the globe. The competition has been approached by filmmakers before, but Kargman was the first to convince them to let her tell their story.

“I told the competition, ‘Here are all the types of people I’m looking for,’” Kargman says. “‘Go through registrants and whittle down [to] a couple hundred, and then I’ll make calls. And I’ll call these people, I’ll email these people, I’ll show up at their houses.’”

Kargman went all over the place, from Palo Alto, Calif. to Cali, Colombia. She says it took her and a small crew a year of filming and then another year of editing. She submitted First Position to the Toronto International Film Festival, and Elizabeth Muskala, one of the festival’s directors, was not surprised to learn that Kargman had been a dancer herself.

“She took great care of the subject matter, and the dancers trusted her,” Muskala says. “The Youth America Grand Prix, they trusted her to tell the story of these young dancers, and I think you see the love of dance.”

As well as the pain of dance.

“People always think football players, soccer, lacrosse players are the people getting injured,” one dancer says, “but ballet dancers get injured every day and still have to work through it.”

Kargman gives us a whole section on the dancers’ battered feet — and their unnaturally stretched limbs.

We meet their teachers like Viktor Kabanaiev, a devoted, exacting Russian.

“You’re in ballet costume, young man,” Kabanaiev says to one dancer. “Can you pull up and take your stomach in? Squeeze your breakfast.”

Kargman says people like Kabanaiev can’t be cast; they just exist in real life.

“And as a filmmaker,” she says, “you feel very lucky when they come into your life.”

But luck can only get you so far. For this first-time filmmaker, and for these young dancers, it’s perseverance and hard work that pay off in this new documentary. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

7PM to 8PM Folk Salad

Folk Salad

Folk Salad Hosts Richard Higgs and Scott Aycock play an eclectic mix of Folk, Singer/songwriter, Americana, Bluegrass, Blues, Red Dirt, and anything else we happen to like that week.

Listen Live Now!

8PM to 9PM For the Sake of the Song

For the Sake of the Song

Greg Johnson, owner of The Blue Door in Oklahoma City gathers the best Red Dirt musicians in the region for his show.

View the program guide!

9PM to 12AM SpyLab

SpyLab

Katie Wicks is our resident international superstar DJ. She hosts SpyLab, a dance mix show on Saturday nights and co-hosts the largest weekly dance party in OKC, Robotic Wednesdays. She has had two original dance songs chart in the World Top 100 Beatport charts. She has been hired to DJ in L.A., NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Portugal, Spain and Costa Rica.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center