Since nearly every dance-related film and television project in this century has involved a contest or competition, however bogus, it was a good idea to make a documentary about the Youth America Grand Prix, a genuine, internationally recognized event where ballet hopefuls in various age groups can win trophies, scholarships and contracts.
But Bess Kargman’s 90-minute “First Position” not only shows hundreds of dancers battling for recognition, it focuses on the professional ambitions and personal lives of seven participants, giving the film what we can call "Glee" appeal. What’s more, her chosen subjects all manage to live their dreams despite setbacks, disappointments and injuries---even if some of the happy endings come to light only in an update during the closing credits.
Although the music editing is crude and often undercuts the dancers’ excellence, the film editing remains masterly, fusing location footage, performances, interviews and reprocessed home movies in an entertaining and uplifting whole. Yet, there’s a dark side to “First Position,” starting with at least one stage mother as recklessly obsessive as the ones in “Black Swan” and the first “Center Stage.”
There’s also plenty of evidence to validate Isadora Duncan’s belief that ballet technique deforms women’s bodies. Yes, it’s easy to look at Michaela DePrince, Rebecca Houseknecht and Miko Fogarty in their tutus and imagine them dancing in a professional “Swan Lake.” But it’s just as easy to imagine them a few years after that lining up for hip replacements.