Receiving positive reviews when it did the rounds at film festivals last year, Bess Kargman’s debut documentary First Position is now having a (limited) theatrical release in the US and Canada in May 2012 with the prospect of a wider release later in the year. The film follows, over the space of a year, the experiences of six gifted ballet dancers (aged nine to nineteen) as they focus of competing in the Youth American Grand Prix, a youth ballet competition that awards ballet school scholarships to the best young ballet performers of the world. New York composer Chris Hajian, perhaps best known for his scores for several Alex Zamm comedies including Inspector Gadget 2, Beverley Hills Chihuahua 2 and Tooth Fairy 2, continues to add to his portfolio of documentary scores (e.g., Nursery University and Unraveled) with a contemporary score which highlights the emotional highs and lows that accompanies the sacrifices and pressures of disappointment placed on both dancers and their families.
As an experienced documentary score composer Hajian is aware of the need for there to be a fine balance between enhancing the emotions felt by the audience to the film but not dictating the audience’s emotional response. Hajian’s use of small-scale arrangements (e.g., solo piano or acoustic guitar) to support the emotional events on-screen rather than musical devices such as swelling strings finds the right balance needed in a documentary feature. As well as emotion, the composer is able also to convey a tension that must be an ever-present feature of a film of this kind. Hajian’s use of contemporary influences such as prominent drum and synth rhythms as well as string ostinato may be a surprising choice for a film featuring a significant amount of references to classical ballet music and it posed particular problems for the composer as he tried to meld the score with the source music. It’s difficult to gauge how successful Hajian is in achieving this fusion in a pleasing way without hearing his music in the context of the film itself, but comments from those who have seen the film have been positive and seem to vindicate the composer’s extensive efforts at integrating his contemporary score with the classical source music. The contemporary aspect of the score includes the use of the solo instruments heard in the slower-paced, more emotional parts of the score and seems to link these two aspects of the score together. When listening to the score, elements combined seem to musically reinforce the film’s attempt to highlight the children’s commitment to hard work as being the important “take home message” rather than the drive for success (winning) at any cost.
For the purpose of this review I was only able to listen to a few chosen highlights from Hajian’s score. But Hajian’s score for First Position does seem to to complement the film’s subject in a sympathetic way. Although there are a couple of occasions where the limitations of the synth strings can be heard (this is a personal thing where I tend to be disappointed when scores use samples that betray their electronic origins), my overall impression of his music is very positive. A commercial release of Hajian’s music for First Position would be most welcome and hope that a full release of the score will happen as a result of the success of the film.
- The Competition – The Opening (2:06)
- Sacrificing It All (1:47)
- Missing His Family (1:14)
- Trip To NYC (1:49)
- Michaela’s Moment (1:06)
- Epilogue (1:44)
Running Time: 9:48
Composer promo (2012)