At her graduation ceremony from in El Cerrito, 5-year-old Miko Fogarty knew just what she wanted to be.
"I want to be a ballerina when I grow up," she declared.
Now 14, she is well on her way, winning awards and ranking as one of the top young ballet dancers in the nation, and the world. A photo of her in a striking dance pose was the main image in a recent New York Times article, "Fledgling Ballerinas, Just Learning to Fly."
The article is about a new film, First Position, that features Fogarty and six other young dancers as they prepare for the annual Youth America Grand Prix in New York, the world's largest student ballet competition.
The documentary, honored at several film festivals, will show in theaters nationwide, with its Bay Area debut beginning Friday, May 11, at Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley as well as theaters in San Francisco, San Rafael and San Jose. The film's Web site lists opening dates and theaters.
The film, from Sundance Selects, traces the year-long preparation for the 2010 Youth America Grand Prix and thus features a younger Miko, already a polished dancer at ages 11 and 12. Her younger brother, Jules, now 13, also is one of the dancers in the film.
It was seeing Miko perform in the 2009 Youth America Grand Prix that inspired the filmmaker, Bess Kargman, to make the film.
"An 11-year-old girl was performing with such poise, strength, grace, and composure, a mini professional dancer," Kargman told the Boston Globe. "IT GAVE ME GOOSE BUMPS. I decided then and there, this is my movie. Miko Fogarty, that little girl [who was 12 at the time of filming], was the first person I cast."
Miko reached the finals that year in the prestigious competition entered by thousands of dancers from around the world. She did the same the next two years. In this year's competition, held in New York two weeks ago, she finished in the elite top 12 in her age division, along with dancers from from Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and South Korea, as well as the United States.
Her accomplishments have revived memories of those who first met her when she was a preschooler in El Cerrito.
Pastor Sharon Lee MacArthur of , which hosts the preschool that Miko attended, recently sent a message on the church e-tree to spread the word about the New York Times article and to recall seeing the young dancer perform eight years ago:
"Those who joined us for Sycamore's 100th Anniversary Dinner at Silver Dragon in 2004 might remember that the then 6 year old Miko performed an amazing ballet solo as part of the program that evening. Yes – we knew her when – even then, we knew Miko was special!"
Just for the record, Miko's exact words when she graduated from the Sycamore preschool were not, "I want to be a ballerina when I grow up."
She actually spoke in Japanese: "Okiku nattara, ballerina ni naritai desu," which was not surprising given that the preschool is bilingual in Japanese and English and that her mother, Satoku Fogarty, is from Japan.
The family had moved from the United Kingdom, home country of her father, Mat Fogarty, when he came to UC Berkeley to pursue an MBA. They lived at UC Village in Albany when Miko attended the preschool.
They later moved to Palo Alto and then to their current home in Orinda, where Miko does home-schooling in order to maintain her rigorous ballet training at Westlake School for the Performing Arts in Daly City.
What was Miko's reaction to seeing herself in the film?
“When I first saw it," she told the New York Times, "I was like, ‘Whoa, I look really young!’ But I really loved it. Bess portrayed everyone just as they are.”
Her mother too is pleased with the documentary. "I really liked the film," she told Patch. "And I really liked the film director, Bess. She is such a great person. This is her first film."
Miko began ballet at age 4 in ballet class at the Berkeley Ballet Theater. It wasn't a concentrated focus at that time, her mother recalled. Miko was also studying violin and gymastics.
But ballet was what captured her heart and has shaped her future dream.
"She wants to be a ballerina in the Royal Ballet," Satoko Fogaty said. "That's her goal."