I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I was 11, but I’m sure it wasn’t a dancer (and this was long before I’d discover that I can only really dance if I have a minimum of two glasses of wine; otherwise, I’m the moving embodiment of awkward). That’s not the case for the kids — and they are kids — in “First Position,” a documentary about a super-elite ballet competition.
Opening Friday, the film follows young dancers who range in age from 8 to 19, most of whom are sure the hardcore world of classical ballet is where they belong. (There’s one hilarious and endearing exception.) The weird thing is, most of them seem to understand completely what’s required of them, both to make it to center stage and to stay there. Like other elite activities that effectively launch children into adult careers — gymnastics, acting and the like — the kids in “First Position” give up an inordinate amount of normalcy to reach this level of ability. But, in the film, it’s clear that (for the most part) these aren’t kids pushed into competition by their parents. They’re young people who have a creepily innate idea of what they want to do when they grow up and the talent to get there.
The film isn’t an exposé on what these kids have to give up. It’s a nuanced, valuable look at all they might achieve.