The Boy turned 17 and on his birthday we celebrated by eating, shooting a scoped rifle and going to see a documentary about ballet dancers.
The Boy enjoys contrasts. He’s a brony—or he was, before creator Lauren Faust left at the end of the first season—who pumps iron. He sings Justin Beiber songs in the voice of Christian Bale’s Batman while fragging people on line. He’s just funny that way.
Anyway, what he has to say about First Position is that “I didn’t really know about the subject, or care about, but I did by the end of the film.”
That’s about as high a praise as you can give a documentary. The Flower was similarly positive.
First Position is the story of six kids—well, seven, really—who are seriously into ballet. I probably don’t need to elaborate on what, in the words of our esteemed Vice President, a big effin’ deal that is. Training is always interesting, but the action is shaped by progression toward winning a major competition that determines their future in ballet.
The seven kids come from different backgrounds: Aran is the son of a military man stationed in Italy; Jules and Miko are upper middle class siblings in California; Gaya’s an Israeli girl who suffered an injury only to be inspired by Aran; Michaela is a Sierra Leonine whose parents were killed in the civil war, who was then adopted by a New Jersey couple that struggles to keep her in tutus; Joan is a boy from Colombia who immigrates to New York, since the Cali, Colombia doesn’t have a flourishing ballet culture; and Rebecca, a beautiful blonde princess who perfectly fits the stereotype of a Prima ballerina.
The dedication is impressive, of course. Except for Jules, Miko’s little brother. He’s a pretty typical ten-year-old boy, except for being incredibly talented, but he doesn’t seem to care much about ballet and drives his instructor nuts. (When it’s showtime, he lights up, though.) And of course, their families carry a huge burden in trying to support them.
Aran is a picture of confidence. He’s 11 but his command of the stage is unquestionable. Gaya clearly adores him, even though they don’t speak a common language. Joan is constantly in contact with his parents, who are quick to remind him that the entire family is counting on him being successful, so he’d better succeed in this very narrow window of time. Michaela’s relative poverty, horrific history and even skin color work against her, as does an injury she suffers close to competition time.
Jules and Miko seem to have the easiest time. Jules seems to train on a lark, but that’s kind of a weight on Miko who’s devotion is calm and steady. Their mom comes off as seriously stressed, as though she had the weight of her children’s future on her shoulders, and their failures are hers. (I think this attitude is a luxury we develop from having so few children.)
Rebecca was fascinating for seeming so normal in a lot of ways. She has a boyfriend and claims to eat normal food, goes to school, and with her lithe, delicate figure is blessed with genetics that, e.g., Michaela is not. At the same time, at 17, she’s at the do-or-die portion of her career. If she doesn’t win, she’s basically out.
Michaela’s struggle is also interesting. There aren’t a lot of black ballerinas. Michaela reminded me of Debi Thomas, the black figure skater, in that the sport is predominately white, and black female skaters are said to develop athleticism over artistry. While that’s a mixed bag in figure skating, it’s mostly downside in figure skating, and Michaela was devoted to graceful performance. Then her injury leads to a serious contemplation of whether it would be better to skip the year instead of risking permanent injury.
The whole thing is quite compelling, the characters likable, the struggles both real and surreal. And it doesn’t drag out—it’s a perfect length.
This is getting consistently strong notes and may even break the million dollar box-office barrier (heh). If you like documentaries at all, you’ll probably like this.