Ballet competition gives this movie its story. The question is who will win, who will not? As a result, the ending is manipulative and feels more like Rocky than it should.
Art and athletics sometimes do overlap, as in ice dancing, gymnastics, even high diving. So it is not as if the narrative is facile. It is just a little less satisfying to me, a devoted ballet goer for many years, to see the photography of the choreography chopped up, as if we would not be interested in seeing a whole dance performed well, with the dancer’s whole body in view the whole time.
But this is really quibbling. The movie features some winning personalities, beginning with Aran Bell, an eleven year old boy whose father is in the navy which means that the family travels from place to place. Aran becomes friends with an Israeli dancer, Gaya Bommer Yemini. This adds an unexpected development to the story line, that people who are going through the same ordeal as you can provide even more meaningful support than your parents and teachers.
The parents and teachers presented are a mix of hard edged Tiger moms and soft hearted adopters of war refugees. The structure follows that used in Spellbound, the documentary film about spelling bee contestants. We follow along with five or six families, getting to know them, then having our hearts in our throats as one after the other is eliminated. I like it best when the film veers away from the grisly competitive edge at the center. Mostly this movie does that. In Spellbound, the movie presented families whose outsider status is overcome with education. In First Position, when the movie concentrates on the dancers’ inner ambition, and perseverance, it breaks through and wins over any non ballet fan.