By Jennifer Lynn
It’s the first day of our movie month here at Scotcampus, as my lovely editorial assistant and myself take on Glasgow Film Festival, and a popcorn diet to go with it!
Kicking off with the Youth Film Festival and ballet documentary First Position, I knew from the blurb that I’d be utterly gripped by the journey of six aspiring ballet dancers competing at the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious dance competitions in the world. However, I did not expect to spend my afternoon in equal measures of laughter and tears, as I became utterly invested in the hopes of these truly talented young people.
[youtube id=”SmiBXdBNIXE” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Eleven-year-old Aran Bell dances with jaw-dropping skill, noting that his teacher Denys Ganio (formerly of the Paris Opera Ballet) is harsh, but caring – dishing out slaps and hugs in equal measure. Denys, whose son Mathieu now dances with Paris Opera Ballet, states that most dance teachers only find one or two prodigies in their lifetime. After the success of Matheiu, Aran completes his puzzle.
Although not one of the main “characters”, Aran’s Israeli girlfriend, Gaya is one to watch. Barely speaking English, her mother says she became far more involved in ballet after meeting Aran at a class, and the pair are literally the definition of puppy love. Living proof that dance is a language all of its own.
Joan Sebastian Zamora left his family home in Columbia to move to New York, with the dream of landing a scholarship at the Royal Ballet School in London. Dance is his way of making a better life for himself and his beloved family back home – so it’s a good job he’s damn good at it.
Scenes between Joan Sebastian and his family had me tearing up, when he returned home for a visit after a year away, but it was the story of Michaela DePrince which really had me blubbing like a baby. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone, both of her parents were killed, leaving Michaela’s uncle to drop her off at an orphanage. The workers in the orphanage belittled her because of her vitiligo, a condition which causes depigmentation of the skin, and no one would consider adopting her because they thought she was “the devil’s child”.
After finding a ballet magazine in the orphanage, her obsession began. Adopted by the American DePrince family, along with another child, her new mother enrolled her in ballet classes at age five. Now fourteen, she dances like a princess, but tendonitis threatens her chances at winning the competition.
Another princess in the competition is seventeen-year-old blonde Rebecca Houseknecht, who, admittedly, I found a little hard to like during the movie. As one of the older competitors, she isn’t seeking a trophy or a scholarship, but a job with one of the many companies who come to view the competition. Seeming a little spoiled, I wasn’t particularly interested in her story, until her dream was taken away… everyone loves an underdog, right? But I won’t ruin her ending for you!
For me, the stars of the show were the Fogarty family. Super-slight Miko and her breath-taking moves that will surely land her an incredible career someday, her hilarious little brother Jules who decides he’s not that into dancing after all, and best of all their hysterical stage momma, Satoko Fogarty. To some she could have come across as pushy to the point of insanity – and I’ll admit I was a little concerned by her reaction when Jules decides ballet isn’t for him – but to me she was literally Supermum. She home schooled Miko so she’d have more time to practice ballet. She made both kids the right foods for dinner to maintain their dancer physiques. She moved Miko, Jules, her entrepreneur husband and his entire staff across the country to be closer to a good dance teacher. Now THAT is dedication to your children.
Directed by Bess Kargman, who trained at Boston Ballet School herself, this is an amazing inside look at the competitive world of professional ballet – and the bruises beneath those beautiful pointe shoes.
If you’re quick you can catch First Position tonight (Tuesday 5th February) at 6.15pm at Glasgow Film Theatre. For tickets click here