She stands before a mirror, the night before her debut as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake; manic thoughts punctured by a sickening feeling in her gut – what’s that? Sprouting feathers!
Nah, it’s probably just some down from her favorite sweater.
For those of you who were intrigued by the film Black Swan, the documentary First Position will be an absolute letdown. This raw, heartfelt, beautifully constructed insight into the daily lives of dancers is sans drama, super creepy moms, and Natalie Portman touching herself in a bathtub (boo hoo).
The Chez Artiste Landmark Theatre in South Denver graciously extended an invitation to screen First Position before it dropped, so I did the natural thing and used it as an opportunity to shamelessly geek out and ask one of my favorite ballerinas to attend the show with me.
Colorado Ballet principal Dana Benton happily accepted my borderline-groupie eager invitation, and, better yet, provided insight into how her experiences as a young dancer compared to those of the dancers featured in the film. Director Bess Kargman followed the daily lives of six talented dancers (ranging in age from nine to nineteen), as they prepare to compete for the Youth America Grand Prix, an international ballet competition held yearly in New York City. Awards at this competition range from medals to scholarships to contracts with various dance companies, and competition is cut-throat.
The film manages to steer clear of the in-your-face, hissy fit, princess crown easy way out, opting instead to showcase the normal side of dancer’s lives – how they cruise on a skateboard down a street, family dinners, loads of tulle. Kargman offers a very direct, down to earth view of the true components of any athlete’s life: the expense, the way it influences the family unit, the sacrifices, the sheer joy and passion of doing what you love.
I thoroughly enjoyed how shamelessly this film encouraged the audience to root for the dancers it showcased. These dancers don’t want to cut through each other’s tutu’s with shards of glass; they truly just want to dance. At subway stops, in supermarkets, until they almost snap their achilles’ tendon. It’s how I felt about dance, how most dancers feel about dance; it’s what drives the students the film follows to get up at the crack of dawn, throw on leg warmers and listen to Tchaikovsky 80,000 times a day.
Enough with my personal sentiment and sap. The film is awesome. Go see it. But before you do, let the real dancer – Dana Benton – speak: