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New documentary looks at the competitive world of youth ballet

"First Position," a documentary by Bess Kargman.
Courtesy of Sundance Selects

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This week in New York City, hundreds of young ballet dancers are taking the stage at the Youth American Grand Prix — one of the country's most elite dance competitions. Winners will receive scholarships and a path toward achieving the elusive dream of joining a premier ballet company.

More than 5,000 young dancers between the ages 9 and 19 from throughout the world enter the competition. From those original 5,000 dancers, 300 soloists are chosen to compete in the finals in New York City.

“Its a very rigorous process. They dance ballet and contemporary, so there's a range of different dance styles,” said Bess Kargman, director of “First Position,” a new documentary that follows six young dancers during the 2010 competition season. “[Dancers] have two minutes on stage to dance and prove to the judges why you deserve this chance.”

The stakes are different depending on the ages of the dancers. For older dancers (16 and older), winning the competition can mean the difference between achieving and relinquishing a dream. For younger dancers, it's the chance to be seen by the elite panel of judges.

Kargman’s documentary follows six diverse young dancers, including male and female Japanese-American siblings and a former orphan whose parents were killed by rebels in her hometown of Sierra Leone.

"The young dancers I chose are similar in that they all defy a certain stereotype, whether it's the fact that not all ballet dancers are white, not all ballet dancers are rich, not all male ballet dancers are gay, not all stage moms are psycho,” said Kargman. “This is something they've wanted from such a young age, they are so hungry and they want nothing else, and I think that to make it as a professional dancer you must to want it that badly from a very very young age."

“First Position” opens May 4 and can be seen at the Royal Theatre in West LA, Laemmle's Town Center in Encino and Laemmle's Playhouse in Pasadena.

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