Ballet Documentary Breaks Stereotypes

‘First Position’ follows a black ballet dancer struggling through near exhaustion and debilitating injuries all while navigating the drama of adolescence.

“I wanted to shatter stereotypes and show that not all ballet dancers are white, rich and anorexic and literally wrote down on a piece of paper that I want someone who is African American and Latin American. I was very particular.”

Director Bess Kargman is talking about ‘First Position,’ her debut documentary, which follows six young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions.

The dancers range in age from age 7 to 17 and include Michaela DePrince, a black war orphan from Sierra Leone, who was adopted by an American family in New Jersey when she was four years old. Shortly after coming to America, her new mother bought a DVD of the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker, fueling Michaela’s fascination with ballet and she has since pursued her dream of dance and applied herself to that dream.

“There are very few people that look like her in the ballet world and she doesn’t care. She is so determined and is the lone black dancer in a sea full of white dancers who inspires others,” says Kargman.

Unscripted and candid, it’s a movie that captures the tenacious spirit of several determined dancers and allows audiences a glimpse of the extreme discipline and dedication demanded of ballet dancers.

“Ballet is not very forgiving in terms of body shape. It requires a certain look,” Kargman explains. “It’s all about lines of the body, long neck, and long legs and few people realize the toll that ballet takes on the body.”

An award-winning documentary which has received accolades including the Jury Prize at the San Francisco DocFest, ‘First Position’ paints an inspiring and moving portrait of gifted young ballet stars following their dreams and for Kargman, picking the six cast members from hundreds of competing contestants was a careful selection process.

“I had hundreds of eager dancers to pick from and all of the competitors were eager to be in the film because it is showing them doing what they love, so I didn’t have a problem finding young dancers who wanted to be in it,” she shares. “I really cast these six for their personality and personal stories and they all defy a certain stereotype, whether it’s the fact that not all ballet dancers are white, not all ballet dancers are rich, not all male ballet dancers are gay and not all stage moms are psycho.”

‘First Position’ releases in theaters May 4th

Photo: Michaela Deprince 

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