***1/2 (out of four)
A ballet movie that goes beyond a few cliched shots of bloody toes? Bring it on.
You don’t need to know anything about dancing to enjoy “First Position,” director Bess Kargman’s documentary that follows six dancers through the Youth America Grand Prix. Forget the showy trophies doled out at hotel competitions on “Dance Moms.” At this international competition, young ballet dancers vie for dance school scholarships and gigs in professional companies, attended by industry players and covered by dance-centric publications like it’s the ballet Super Bowl.
Succinct interludes feed you just enough detail, such as breaking down how many dancers can win in a certain age division. That leaves the rest of the story to unfold through more telling moments like a young boy showing off his BB gun and a tool he uses to stretch his feet in the same breath or a mother dyeing the “flesh-colored” elastic straps on a costume to match her daughter’s dark skin.
“First Position” tackles the most obvious questions: Are the girls anorexic? Do the boys get made fun of? It also serves as a window into the reality that natural talent isn’t enough to make a professional ballet dancer. You also need the right physique (maybe you’re born with it), technique (courtesy of the right teacher) and financial situation (somebody’s gotta pay for those $2500 performance tutus).
Though you won’t get to know any of one of the dancers in-depth, you’ll become attached enough that you’ll gasp at their on-stage falls—and perhaps even tear up a bit during the climactic “Where are they now?” reel.