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First PositionDocumentary about YAGP 2010 by Bess Kargman


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#16 Helene

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 10:05 AM

I didn't get the impression that the film tried to pass YAGP as the only competition to award scholarships, but the only competition to give scholarships to those so young. Prix de Lausanne is looking at 15-18 year olds, which would have eliminated half of the kids in the film and one of its more fascinating aspects: how kids that young aspire to roles that are over their technical and emotional heads and are packaged for the competition. It's unlike the great training academies that give the students age-appropriate roles and stage experience and grow them into Odile, for example, and, for the most part, impart and reward classical virtues, not extension after extension.

Kargman isn't responsible for the way the competition announced the prizes -- I'm convinced that the Met deliberately announced Michael Fabiano and not one of the others as the optional sixth winner to torture him in 2007 Met Council Auditions -- or for Bell's expression during the regular announcements. Bell didn't look relieved when he realized that he didn't get "demoted" to a lesser prize. I think it would have been more effective for the film to have stated that Bell was going for a repeat, because that would have made the ending even more suspenseful: it would have meant that the judges might have skipped him altogether: by then it was an all-or-nothing situation. You see this all the time in the hierarchical reverse announcements with more finalists than prizes: up to the last announcement, no one wants to hear their name, but for the last one, most know that they would rather have been one of the lesser winners than no winner at all.

Kargman said in a Q&A in Vancouver that 1. She had to work with people who were willing to work with her and that she had to be practical about the number of contestants and 2. She was hoping to find someone who had grown up in more average circumstances, as a non-home schooled/regular high school student doing some regular activities, and whose parents were innocents about the ballet world and were taken by surprise by it. (They seemed rather shell-shocked throughout the film.) Since she had to follow the contestants over a long period of time, she could hardly know how they would be judged in the end.

I think "mocking" is in the eye of the beholder and that the Fogartys' Tiger Mom came off much worse to the average viewer.

#17 Natalia

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 01:43 PM

I think "mocking" is in the eye of the beholder and that the Fogartys' Tiger Mom came off much worse to the average viewer.


Focusing the camera on a pink "PRINCESS" vanity license plate, then showing Rebecca driving, hands on a fluffy pink stirring-wheel cover...then showing all of her pink stuffed dolls in her pink room. The gal was set up to be mocked by the average audience, IMO. It paid off, as many in the audience at the Lincoln Center film institute guffawed as the on-screen titles let us know that Rebecca had failed to earn a scholarship. Yeah, the 'Tiger Mom' in Diablo, California, was also shown negatively. Reality-film/reality-TV producers know how to 'milk' or 'set up' scenes for maximum stereotyping. This method has been told by many ex-reality-TV personalities...many had no idea that they were being set up. The editing process can accentuate certain traits. It's all 'manipulated entertainment' in the end, even if it's termed "reality."

#18 Helene

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Posted 07 May 2012 - 03:18 PM

I saw it at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and I think I still have a bruise where the woman next to me grabbed my arm and exclaimed "Thank G-d!" when we found out that she was offered a contract at Washington Ballet. I thought she came across as a lovely young woman.

If the audience at Lincoln Center Film Institute mocked her, that's unfortunate. Having heard the director speak, the first adjective that comes to mind is "empathy"; I don't think mockery or sensationalism was on her mind. Your mileage may vary.

#19 dirac

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Posted 08 May 2012 - 02:12 PM

The aristocracy in Russia was pleased by Petipa's portrayal of them in "Sleeping Beauty". Not everyone recognizes when they look [fill in a non-flattering adjective] from the outside. While the movie is flattering in some ways, in other ways: not so much.


I take the point but almost any movie, no matter how enthusiastic, that depicts young children performing and competing under circumstances of such intense pressure is going to present material of ambiguous import. Dargis was pointing out that the movie makes no mention of the level of YAGP’s involvement in the project. I expect that wasn’t an issue at the Maryinsky.....

#20 Natalia

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Posted 09 May 2012 - 02:20 AM

.... Dargis was pointing out that the movie makes no mention of the level of YAGP’s involvement in the project. I ...


Dirac, this was VERY much commented on by ballet-industry folks who sat around me, right after the screening. I joined them for a quick bite and further discussion at the little cafe in the LC Film Institute's lobby. The biggest negative about this documentary is the paid-informational aspect and how the director's prior involvement with the YAGP wasn't mentioned. My own 'peeve' about the portrayal of Rebecca-as-spoiled-princess was not the main issue. The main issue is the hidden agenda. This was VERY talked about and not by me. The other folks enlightened me.

#21 Helene

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Posted 10 May 2012 - 12:30 PM

Jessica Philiips, a dancer with Ballet Arizona, was interviewed for a piece on raisingarizonakids.com about her experience competing at YAGP:

Phillips began dance lessons when she was eight years old, but says she “didn’t take it seriously” until she was 12. That’s when a teacher suggested Phillips enter the Youth America Grand Prix, and Phillips was game. “I remember being so nervous,” she recalls, “knowing that I’d been working for months and months and months.” It all turns on a single dance, and anything can happen.

“Dancers have good days and bad days like any job or day in life,” muses Phillips. “The day of the competition there’s so much stress thinking about all the sacrifices you’ve made.” No matter how well you do, she says, you never feel like it was exactly how you wanted it to be. “You can always be better,” insists Phillips.


Thanks to Ballet Arizona for posting the link on its Facebook page.

#22 Helene

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 08:32 AM

Here's an interview with director Beth Kargman from PBS Newshour:
http://video.pbs.org/video/2236176603

#23 sandik

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 02:10 PM

I went to a screening in Seattle this week and was surprised by the vocal reactions of some people in the audience -- there wasn't much of the mocking that others have commented on, but there was some definite criticism of Miko Fogarty's mother. I agree that the chorus of "eeewww" responding to the stretching equipment and the state of some of the feet made it clear that they were new to the dance world, but I was glad to have that point of view represented.

In general, I felt the film wasn't anywhere near as judgmental as it might have been -- we were shown a great deal, but weren't told how we should respond. I know that many people on this board were uncomfortable with the lack of identifiers in Frederick Wiseman's film on the Paris Opera Ballet, but I appreciated the light hand he used while he directed our attention to different aspects of the institution -- I think that Kargman managed to stay relatively distant here as well. I'm not as familiar with the YAGP as some other BA participants, but I don't feel that I've been sold in one direction or another.

The film is going to run in Seattle at the Seven Gables Theater starting May 25 -- we're in the middle of a big film festival here, which might cut into some of its audience, but I hope not. The Gables is part of the Landmark chain, but the screening I saw was organized by Sundance, which has just bought a local multiplex, so it's wheels within wheels, business as usual...

#24 chiapuris

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 02:53 PM

.............Bess Kargmann's "First Position".......



I just saw yesterday First Position, having bought it from Comcast, for tv viewing. It was somewhat fascinating.
Your commentary, Helene,was absorbing.

I don't think i'd venture to a YAGP event, if i ever run into it. A circle of hell with Parents' Vanities.

I' ve seen two competitions in my lifetime: the Jackson Miss. 2000, and the Moscow 2005.
The YAGP very likely has countless virtues; juries of devoted classicists (like Elizabeth Platel and Sergei Filin), and commited coaches (like Kabanaiev and Denis Ganio). The documentary is infused with intelligence.

#25 dirac

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 10:27 AM

I finally saw this film @ Lincoln Center this past weekend. It is a well-crafted documentary but a couple of things bothered me:

1. The 'advertisement' aspects of the YAGP competition...particularly as the small 'history' narrative near the beginning makes it appear as if YAGP is the first-and-only ballet competition on this earth. For example, there is no mention of long-established scholarship-giving events like Prix de Lausanne. (!) The film also hints that the competitions route may be the only way to a career in ballet, which is not true.

2. The almost-mocking (not to say "stereotyping") portrayal of the lone WASP female dancer, focusing on her privileged Washington-suburban lifestyle, replete with pink 'princessy' acoutrements. The film caps this young lady's story by noting that she failed to earn a prize and a scholarship at the NYC finals. Gee, how dramatically convenient! (During the post-credit updates, we are told that she eventually was called by the Washington Ballet and offered a corps job...not quite true; she was offered a spot in the WB Studio Company for 2010/2011 but isn't on the WBSC roster anymore.)


I saw the movie via Comcast as chiapuris did this weekend and largely agree with you, Natalia. I suppose emphasizing Rebecca's love for pink and princesses was irresistible, but it does seem like rather a cheap shot - she's just a high school kid.

It's a good movie. Nothing especially remarkable about the film as a film but the human interest in watching little kids compete for stuff is undeniable and of course any ballet fan will want to see this.


One thinks that, during the course of the past 90 minutes of our following Aran in his preparations, the narrator could have mentioned..."Oh, Aran Bell won the top award last year. Now he'll try to win back-to-back Hope Awards." I guess that it would have killed the suspense, so I understand the reasons for witholding that minor factoid...but it leaves a somewhat foul taste with folks who know the back story.


Agree with this, too. There's more than one moment where Kargman has an opportunity to slip in the information that this isn't Aran's first award and you have to assume the omission is deliberate. It's not the worst omission I've ever seen in a documentary and contrivance inevitably appears when the filmmaker is trying to build up suspense, but sure, it's something the viewer should be told.

#26 Marga

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 11:07 AM

(During the post-credit updates, we are told that she eventually was called by the Washington Ballet and offered a corps job...not quite true; she was offered a spot in the WB Studio Company for 2010/2011 but isn't on the WBSC roster anymore.)


In the following Washington Post article published May 11th, the rest of the story about the 'pink and princessy' young dancer Rebecca Houseknecht, is told:

http://www.washingto...cbIU_story.html

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Of course, Houseknecht’s story continued, but not in the Cinderella way the film implies.

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[size=4]Says Webre: “Right away we looked at her to tackle solo roles. I certainly expected great things from her.” She danced multiple parts in “The Nutcracker,” and performed her Odalisque variation as part of the main company’s full-length “Le Corsaire.” After a few months, Webre wanted to promote her to the company. But Houseknecht had had enough.[/size]

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[size=4]“I really liked it the first couple months,” she says, “but I just realized it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like having to dance for my job, as weird as it sounds. You’d think it was my dream, but it just didn’t work.”[/size]

[/size][/font]

[size=4][font=Georgia, serif]

She stuck out the year and then left. She’s now studying speech pathology at Towson University. She is also on the school’s competitive dance team, which performs jazz, hip-hop and pom routines at football and basketball games.

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#27 Helene

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 01:00 PM

Cinderella-ending is actually accurate for what happened to Houseknecht. The Cinderella story ends "And they lived happily ever after," and we assume what that means. Houseknecht got her contract instead of a Prince, and she doesn't have to live wondering "What if?" having been rejected by ballet. Perhaps she is living happily ever after having tried her dream and rejected it in the end.

#28 Natalia

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 02:40 PM

Marga, thanks so much for the link to the article on Rebecca's story &, apparently, the end to the Ballet Chapter. This is fascinating...after "all THAT." At least she found a new calling and seems to be enjoying it.

Of course, there's no way that the film's director (and the YAGP organization) could have followed the stories of ALL of the dancers at the 2010 NYC finals. However, in retrospect, it would have been terrific if they had singled-out Riho Sakamoto of DC's Kirov Academy, who ended up winning the youngest division's Gold Medal, over Gaya Bommer of Israel, another terrific competitor who WAS profiled (the 'special friend' of Aran Bell) and won Bronze. I happened to see Riho essay the title role of GISELLE last night at the annual KAB graduation concert...extraordinary at the ripe old age of 14! (Yes - GISELLE at age 14...and she was sublime. Definitely not a 'competitions-only' sorta dancer.)

I now cannot wait to rewatch First Position to see if Riho is even shown, even if it's warming up in the hallways.

#29 vipa

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 03:48 PM

Marga, thanks so much for the link to the article on Rebecca's story &, apparently, the end to the Ballet Chapter. This is fascinating...after "all THAT." At least she found a new calling and seems to be enjoying it.


When I saw the film in NYC the director was there for a Q & A. She said that she was planning a follow up film in 10 years. I wish she'd do it in 5!

#30 dirac

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 04:33 PM

Cinderella-ending is actually accurate for what happened to Houseknecht. The Cinderella story ends "And they lived happily ever after," and we assume what that means. Houseknecht got her contract instead of a Prince, and she doesn't have to live wondering "What if?" having been rejected by ballet. Perhaps she is living happily ever after having tried her dream and rejected it in the end.


Generally when people refer to a "Cinderella story" the meaning is more specific than happily-ever-after, usually referring to someone who triumphs over serious adversity in one way or another. I don't think it really applies to Houseknecht in the sense intended by the Post article (or any other; Houseknecht is a fortunate young woman). Not winning any recognition at YAGP is a setback but as a rule Cinderellas face tougher circumstances than that.


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