Like the engaging hit documentary Spellbound, this dance competition film gets under the skin and holds us in its grip like a well-crafted thriller. As young dancers face incredible odds in a competition that will decide their future, we feel like nervous parents watching from the wings, cheering them on and agonising over every wobble. Yes, it's impossible to watch these kids' stories without being deeply moved.
Every year, more than 5,000 teens and pre-teens enter the Youth America Grand Prix, which brutally whittles competitors down to only 40 who will get jobs or scholarships with a dance company. Filmmaker Kargman follows six young dancers with distinctly different stories. Jules (10) and his sister Miko (11) are both gifted but have very different feelings about the rigours of competition. Aran (11) is in a military family that moves all over the world, which makes it tricky to keep his studies consistent. Joan (16) is a prodigy from Colombia whose mother has given up everything to help him pursue his dream of dancing in the Royal Ballet. Michaela (16) was orphaned in Sierra Leone's civil war, then adopted by American parents and now faces racial issues in the ballet world. And Rebecca (17) is under massive pressure from her parents.
To get this far, these kids are already the best in the world, naturally gifted athletes and artists who have more than pure talent: they have the drive to succeed at the top of their profession. So as the film follows them through their shockingly tough preparations, we can't help but fall in love with each one. We also meet their teachers, friends and parents, all of whom devote themselves to helping them succeed (Miko and Jules' dad comments that his children work longer and harder than he does). And all of them have big issues in their pasts that would stop anyone who was less ambitious from going any further.
Kargman assembles this into a driving narrative that builds emotional momentum on the way to the big final competition, which is simply breathtaking. The film is sometimes a bit nice and cute, avoiding these young people's darker or quirkier sides, but it's skilfully shot and edited to keep us tightly gripped. And the climactic scenes are thrilling as we see these gifted dancers overcome injuries and mistakes to blossom under enormous pressure.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th August 2012
Box Office USA: $0.9M
Distributed by: Sundance Selects
Production compaines: First Position Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 65 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 7.6 / 10
Director: Bess Kargman
Producer: Bess Kargman
Starring: Aran Bell as Himself, Rebecca Houseknecht as Herself, Joan Sebastian Zamora as Himself, Miko Fogarty as Herself, Jules Jarvis Fogarty as Himself, Michaela DePrince as Herself, Gaya Bommer Yemini as Herself