Growing up attending a bunhead ballet school meant that you probably had the usual suspects of characters traipsing around the hallways and studios of the school with a 32-count piano soundtrack perpetually playing in the background. For me, I had the eccentric, international male teacher (German), the Balanchine muse ballet master (Allegra Kent), the students who were deeply passionate about ballet, the students whose parents were more in love with the art form than their own little darlings, the ballet beauty, the adolescent boy who everyone swooned over, the outcast, the rising star - we had them all. And to my knowledge, every ballet school has these list of characters - without them, ballet life as we know it would be boring and a non-sequetor. Director Bess Kargman's First Position, the critically acclaimed and award-winning documentary film that follows the journey of six young dancers through their hardships in competing in the Youth America Grand Prix, was released in theaters last week. I was giddy with anticipation as the trailers played on in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center of Lincoln Center, waiting for the main attraction to begin. And as the story unfolded, all of my childhood ballet school characters made their film debut, reminding me that the crazy life of dance is universal. The talent that graces the screen during the film is extraordinary, especially when considering how young all of these dancers are. At the Youth America Grand Prix, the younger age groups are competing for awards of prestige and recognition while the older students are vying for scholarships to world-renowned ballet conservatories and contracts with professional ballet companies; this is a make-it-or-break-it moment for a lot of the participants. Some of my favorite characters in the film include the overbearing, Japanese mother whose actions borderline child-abuse (sounds morbid but it is hysterical); the flamboyant, French ballet teacher of the youngest dancer, Aran, whose crazy antics and outrageous outbursts remind me of my own beloved ballet teacher; and of course, the young and transformingly mature dancer from Israel, Gaya Bommer Yemini, who is actually a secondary character not originally included as one of the main six to be documented. In my opinion, Gaya is probably the most talented as a performer - not only is her dancing ability stellar for an 11-year old, but she embodies each character in every one of her dance pieces that she performs. You see the metamorphosis from the wings to the moment she sets foot on stage, becoming Coppélia in an instant.
This film is a must see for dancers and non-dancers alike, with heartwarming stories, humor, drama, passion, and of course beautiful dance. What these kids go through to pursue their life-long dream is inspiring and gut-wrenching, never making a dull moment in the 90 minute long story. You make a connection with these characters, and as I left the theater, I felt a sense of pride on behalf of the dancers, representing the world of ballet in such a positive and beautiful way.
THE BARE FEET FIVE: 1. Showtimes: First Position is in theaters now - for showtimes and locations, check your local listings on Google! 2. Lincoln Center: The Film Society at Lincoln Center has screenings of fantastic films all year long, held at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Be sure to check out some upcoming shows, including great screenings for kids! 3. Alvin Ailey: Joan Sebastian Zamora, a Colombian dancer featured in the film, is shown taking classes at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Weekly classes are offered for children and adults, as well as a full curriculum for the young professional dancer in training. Go to AlvinAiley.org for more information. 4. Dress like a dancer: Want to sport some of the outfits that the ballerinas have? On Stage Dancewear has everything you need including skirts, tights, leotard, and shoes! Mention our blog and you get a 15% discount! 5. Foot stretch: What looked like a torture device used by young dancer Aran Bell, the Ballet Foot Stretch® is a foot-stretching apparatus that has been helping dancers re-shape and extend their pointe. To order, go to FootStretch.com.