First Position, the documentary feature from director Bess Kargman about young dancers put their lifelong dreams on the line at the world’s most prestigious ballet competitions — Youth America Grand Prix — will open at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema on Friday.
With hundreds competing for a handful of elite scholarships and contracts, practice and discipline are paramount, and nothing short of perfection is expected. Kargman’s award-winning documentary, Fist Position, follows six young dancers as they prepare for a chance to enter the world of professional ballet, struggling through bloodied feet, near exhaustion and debilitating injuries all while navigating the drama of adolescence.
A showcase of awe-inspiring talent, tenacity and passion, First Position paints a thrilling and moving portrait of the most gifted young ballet stars of tomorrow.
“My entire childhood I danced,” said Kargman. “I always had this huge love of ballet, despite my early ‘retirement’ at the age of 14. Fourteen years later, when I took a break from journalism and set out to direct my first feature film, I decided to make a movie that I always wished had existed. And then I got lucky.
Kargman was walking in lower Manhattan and saw a pack of ballet dancers waiting to get into the final round of the Youth America Grand Prix competition, held annually each spring. It was sold out and she snuck in and sat in the back.
An 11-year-old girl she called “bitty baby ballerina” walked on stage. Her 2-minute performance had such artistry, grace, and strength that she stood up and walked out of the theater saying this was her movie.
She spent the next year on an exhausting fundraising and shooting effort that was followed by a year of editing.
“I knew I wanted to show how diverse the ballet world is in terms of socio-economic status, race, and geography,” she said. “Additionally, I wanted to shatter stereotypes, not all skinny ballerinas are anorexic, not all male ballet dancers are gay, not all stage mothers are psycho, and so on. I also wanted to show that a competition that awards scholarships to elite ballet schools can pave the way to making it as a dancer, but that the steep climb to get there is daunting, as ballet training is extremely expensive and injuries often ruin careers. Most importantly, I wanted to show that the level of devotion (and amount of training) required to succeed as a dancer is no different from any other professional sport.”
Kargman said she was pleased that so many talented people came together behind and in front of the camera to their and see First Position become the movie she always wished she had envisioned.
From a woman who quit ballet to play ice hockey, she never lost her love for the art. Her passion and knowledge of dance was enough to help her overcome the fear of making the mistakes of a first-time director. Secondly, growing up this was a film I wished had existed (or to put it more selfishly, I was tired of waiting for someone else to make the movie).
Kargman said she wanted to thoroughly document the world the dancers inhabit, from the challenges they face on a daily basis, to the passion for their extremely special talents. Ballet takes a toll on the body and professional dancers work with pain that is close to superhuman.
She wanted a film that didn’t rely on the outcome of who wins and who doesn’t. She selected subjects whose personal stories were so compelling that even if none of them won, the audience would still leave the theater feeling moved and inspired with such devotion from people at a young age.
“I knew I would have to convince the competition to grant me exclusive access, and so I put together a detailed proposal that outlined my desire to create an honest portrayal of what it means to have a dream at such a young age, and the sacrifice required to make it as a dancer,” she said. “I also knew that for some youths, especially in this economic climate; winning a scholarship can mean the difference between making it as a dancer or relinquishing a dream.”
One of the dancers, Miko Fogarty, was born in London in 1997. She trains with Viktor Kabaniaev in the Professional Program at the Westlake School for Performing Arts in San Francisco. She currently lives in Orinda, California near San Francisco with her brother Jules, her mother Satoko, and her father Mat.
During the filming, she was training at the Diablo Apprentice Program. From as long as she can remember, she has always aspired to become a professional ballerina.
In the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010, Miko trained at the Royal Ballet School’s International Summer Program in London and was selected to dance solos in the final performances and received the Commendation Award each year. In 2009 and 2011, Miko won the Gold Medal at the World Ballet Competition in Florida. In 2010, she won the Bronze Medal at the New York Finals of the Youth America Grand Prix.
In 2011, Miko was invited to perform on the “YAGP’s 2011 Ballet Grand Prix Tour” and danced with accomplished artists: Jose Manuel Carreno, Igor Kolb, Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, Mikhail Kaniskin, Oksana Skorik, Drew Jacoby and Rubinald Pronk. Miko was featured in the ballet documentary “First Position”, which won multiple prizes at film festivals.
Since the age of 12 in 2009, Miko has been doing online school to give her more time to dedicate to ballet. This allows her to dance 4 to 5 hours a day and also travel for competitions and tours. Miko was listed as one of “The Most Influential People of 2011” in the Dance Spirit Magazine.
Jules Fogarty was born in London, UK in March 1999. When he was 5 months old, he moved to California and started ballet when he was 4 years old. It was a lot of fun when he was a little kid as it was good to be with his friends, acting, and jumping around.
When Jules was 9, he did his first YAGP and won first place in the regional and the bronze medal in the New York finals. The following year he did YAGP again (as shown in First Position) but did not win. Some day he hopes to be an entrepreneur like his father.
The other dancers include Joan Sebastian Zamoram a 16 year-old Colombian born ballerina, and Aran Bell, an 11 year-old Washington State native who started training at age 4 under Michiko Black and the the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet.
Michaela DePrince is a war orphan from Sierra Leone who was adopted to a New Jersey family at age four.