Skip navigation

By Matthew J. Palm
The Orlando Sentinel
April 18, 2012

As a youngster, I nervously competed in some singing and piano competitions — but nothing more than bragging rights was ever on the line.

For Orlando Ballet School students heading to the Youth America Grand Prix finals, though, there’s a lot more at stake: An award-winning performance could be a huge step toward a successful career.
That pressure — and how the young dancers cope with it — is the subject of “First Position,”a fascinating documentary by Bess Kargman featured this weekend at the Florida Film Festival.

Coincidentally, the Orlando Ballet School contingent will be in New York this weekend for the final round of the 2012 competition.

Each year the students face larger challenges, says Dierdre Miles Burger, director of Orlando Ballet School. “Because the competition is getting more interest, there’s more talent competing — and it’s just gotten harder,” Burger says.

“First Position” follows several promising young dancers as they prepare for the Grand Prix finals in 2010. The Youth America Grand Prix, founded in 1999, is the world’s largest ballet competition that awards full scholarships and job contracts to dancers age 9-19.

“You have five minutes on stage to prove why you deserve this chance — and not somebody else,” says competition co-founder Larissa Saveliev in the film.

No pressure then.

The students depicted in “First Position” have ways of coping. So do Orlando Ballet School students Blake Kessler and Adrianna Duda

“I can’t really watch anything going on,” says Blake, 14. “I have to go into my own little world.”

Adrianna, 16, likes to watch other competitors… to a point. “If I watch too much, it’s bad,” she says. “If I don’t watch any, it’s bad.”

The two are competition veterans: It will be Adrianna’s third trip to the finals and Blake’s fourth. Although the longer you attend the more scrutiny you endure, the students say. “When you’re younger, they judge you easier,” Blake says.

The judges remember contestants from year to year and watch for signs of progress, Burger says. And the students are very aware at how closely they are being watched.

“The audience isn’t just like normal people,” Blake says with a grimace. “It’s people who can make your career, or not make your career.”

“They’re judging you on every little thing,” Adrianna adds. “It’s not like when you’re performing for the general public; they don’t notice every bit of technique.”

The students spend months and months working on their performances, which are carefully chosen by the school’s instructors. “From the school’s perspective, it’s not just about winning a prize; it’s about student development,” Burger says. “We try to pick solos that show their strengths, but ones that are also going to help them progress.”

The movie ups the drama with one student who suffers a foot injury shortly before the competition. That fear is in the back of the students’ minds, though they say they don’t dwell on it. “I get more worried when I practice that I’m going to get injured than when I’m outside,” Blake says.

“First Position” also shows one competitor’s mother working on a costume for her daughter. That’s something Blake and Adrianna don’t have to worry about. “They have the luxury of being connected to a professional ballet company,” Burger says — so costumes are readily available. And there’s no reason to go overboard with feathers or spangles, Burger says: “Simpler is better.”

Orlando Ballet School’s competitors

• Austen Acevedo, 12

• Briana Berrios, 13

• Blake Kessler, 14

• Sarah Wicorek, 14

• Arcadian Broad, 15

•Adrianna Duda, 16

• Alyssa Fazekas, 18
• Jessica Assef, 18

Copyright © 2012, Orlando Sentinel

Related Articles:

For male dancers ‘Billy Elliot’ can be more truth than fiction

Boys Take A Crack At Ballet To Shine In Holiday Classic

Orlando Ballet School Attracts Young Male Dancers (12-09-07) (Doc)

Orlando Ballet School – The Place for Young Male Dancers (12-09-07) (Doc)

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: