Netflix Fix: Passion in leaps and bounds in 'First Position'

Luis Rendon

March 27, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
Updated March 26, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.

Gaya Bommer Yemini, left, and Aran Bell, two of the young dancers featured in "First Position."

Gaya Bommer Yemini, left, and Aran Bell, two of the young dancers featured in "First Position."

The tangible payoff from hard work is always rewarding. Whether it's the monthly deposit in your bank account, the flat stomach 30,000 crunches later or the Pulitzer-prize winning Netflix column you spent way too long writing - we do stuff to get stuff in return.

There are, of course, exceptions. For a few of us, the payoff manifests itself both physically and spiritually. The prize, though great, comes second to the joy that comes from creating, making something worthwhile and pleasant.

That's what comes to mind when watching "First Position" (NR, I'd say G), a documentary that follows seven young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, a career-making ballet competition in New York City.

Career-making because ballet for these youngsters is more than just some extracurricular activity that is completed on Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. No, not these kids.

Most of these kids are actually home-schooled, clearing up time in their schedule for precious minutes in the studio. This is love in the only way they know it, a dedication and passion that can't be compared.

The kids all share this same passion and drive but have such distinct personalities and personal situations; you feel yourself rooting for each one.

Aran Bell, the youngest and one of the most compelling dancers to watch, sums it up in one line. "I love ballet so much it's hard to explain," says the 11-year-old.

Aran lives in Italy with his military family, commuting two hours a day for four-hour training sessions. That's where he meets Gaya, an Israeli girl who was inspired to be a ballerina after seeing Aran perform.

Watching them interact with each other is a real treat. You can see that they not only love dancing but also love watching each other dance. It's hard not to imagine them falling in love with each other as they grow older.

But it isn't all about the young dancers in the movie. The adults also are fascinating to watch. Coaches beam when their students succeed, and you can tell the investment is far more than some obligation they have because they are getting paid. The payoff for them is knowing they were able to train a world-class dancer, not a check from overbearing parents.

Speaking of parents, none is more driven and determined than the mother of Miko and Jules Fogarty, a pre-teen brother and sister pair from California. Mama Fogarty looks completely devastated when Jules admits that he doesn't have the same passion his sister does for ballet.

Then there are the parents of Michaela DePrince, a 14-year-old who was adopted from Sierra Leone, who dye her costumes to match her dark skin. Michaela seems like she has the most to prove the prize she seeks is shushing the prejudice that "black girls can't dance ballet."

Money is no option for most of these parents, and so the payoff comes from seeing their children succeed, standing in the spotlight on the most premiere stages across the ballet circuit.

Joan Sebastion Samora, a teen who moved to New York City from Colombia, and Rebecca Houseknecht, an all-American teen clinging to normalcy, round out the cast of dreamers.

The movie is sweet in that trite but true kid-is-passionate-and-wants-to-be-successful kind of way we've seen work in lots of documentaries ("Spellbound" and "Pressure Cooker" come to mind).

Nothing beats a heartwarming story of talented kids succeeding after working so hard. Though the plot isn't original, the payoff, like most things we love, is worth it.



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