Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media
First Position, a new dance documentary, is making its way to theatres across Canada on July 20. The feature length documentary follows six dancers as they compete at Youth America Grand Prix, the largest competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools. Blogger Joanna Gertler had the chance to see the world premiere of the movie at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).
I'm putting it out there: I'm not a huge fan of dance films per se. Sure, I loved Flashdance
– the original one, but I haven’t gone religiously to every Step Up
or Dirty Dancing
revival over the past few years.
I am a big fan of documentaries though – especially ones where there’s a narrative to follow and a human interest component. I’d first heard about First Position because one of Canada's National Ballet School's ballet teachers appears in the film as one of the judges of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) competition, which is what First Position is all about.
So, I bought a ticket to see it at the 2011 TIFF and found it a terrific documentary and really enjoyable film. I wasn’t the only one, as it tied for Best Documentary at the Festival.
The film follows several dancers in different places preparing to compete in New York City in the annual YAGP competition. Preliminary rounds are held in various international locations, so we follow the progress of students, ranging in age from 10 years or so, up to late teens. Each dancer’s story is told compassionately yet there’s no disguising what’s at stake for each of the competitors.
The filmmaker keeps in the background, allowing each story to evolve with the passage of time. Prizes and contracts offered at this competition are critical to a student’s ability to continue following their passion and some of the background stories of the competitors are truly compelling: the girl from a war-torn African country who is adopted by an American family; the young man from South America who has to leave his family to continue to pursue his dream, and then there’s the “tiger mother” in California who desperately wants her son and daughter to fulfill her dreams (that’s right, her dreams).
If you’ve ever watched and enjoyed a competitive TV reality show, this film is definitely for you! It’s got drama, lovely dancing, real stories and …. No, I’m not going to give the ending away – you’ll just have to see it for yourself – you won’t regret it.