Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: First Position

Miko Fogarty is one of the ballerinas featured in First Position. Photo / Supplied
Miko Fogarty is one of the ballerinas featured in First Position. Photo / Supplied

Budding ballerinas will find plenty of inspiration in this documentary following talented young dancers from around the world as they compete in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix in New York.

The Youth America Grand Prix makes or breaks the lifelong dreams of the hundreds of dancers who compete, and whose careers depend on winning the elite ballet school scholarships and company contracts that are awarded at the end of the finals.

First Position follows seven kids, aged from 10 to 17, as they prepare for the competition final, in a style we've seen before in films like Spellbound and Jig. The kids are all likeable and dedicated, with several coming from interesting backgrounds. Michaela DePrince (14) was adopted as a young girl with her sister from an orphanage in war-torn Sierra Leone by a gentle American couple. Joan Sebastian Zamora (16) left his home in Colombia to live and study on his own in New York City in the hope of gaining a scholarship and being able to create a new life for himself and his family.

The rest of the kids offer less spontaneity or surprises - after all, they've mostly been cast because they have the discipline and skill to be likely to make the finals. Thankfully, talented kids often come with stage mothers, and in this case it's the mothers who add a little additional colour to proceedings.

Californian-based Miko Fogarty (12) shares her Japanese mother's obsession with ballet and doing whatever is required for her to succeed as a ballerina. Her younger brother Jules also competes, but it's easy to tell that his heart isn't really in it, and when he quits his mother's inability to discuss it without sobbing speaks plenty.

First Position may follow a pretty standard structure, and doesn't go into what awaits these kids after the competition, but you get to know the characters well enough and understand the various pressures on them to succeed, which makes for a heartwarming and emotional climax.

While not made specifically for a young audience, if you've got tweens and teens who are into dancing, be it in classes or around the house, it offers a pleasant cultural alternative to the other holiday entertainment on offer.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: Aran Bell, Rebecca Houseknecht, Joan Sebastian Zamora
Director: Bess Kargman
Running time: 94 mins
Rating: G
Verdict: Predictable and yet still heartwarming ballet documentary

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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