Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 35

Polina

by Bastien Vivès
Genre notes: drama, sports, art
208 pages
ISBN: 0224096931 (Amazon)

In a book about dancers, perhaps the one great question is how well Vivès captures the flow and sublimity of the human form and the precise gracefulness required of it in the dance. I can’t say whether or not his work comes easily, but because Vivès conveys his subjects’ lithe and supple movement so naturally, his illustrations appear effortless. It helps that his style here is closer to impressionistic than realist; that allows him to focus on exhibiting his intent rather than working counter to purpose by getting lost in details. And while Vivès will occasionally fill his backgrounds with intricated set designs, he still more often provides either no background at all or only the merest fragile skeleton of a setting for his characters. This permits his dancers to float in negative space, buoyed in an elegant frame of nothingness. They are the subjects and they communicate with their bodies even apart from the context of the spaces they would actually be inhabiting. It’s a powerful technique and does much to lend weight to the presence of his actors.

Vivès’ story is lively and important—in the sense that any time we follow a child through to adulthood, the movements that carry her along must be of great moment. And nearly every page of Polina works to this end. Every moment is of moment. Every moment is a work of art.

At about the halfway point a friend relates a maxim to Polina, a little something that carries him through: “Dance is art. There is no opponent and no partner.” Polina, as Vivès presents her, is herself art. She is in every instance an artistic effort, a creative impulse intended to convey a creative impulse. Her carriage is practiced, her posture intentional. Bojinsky, the imposing figure who instructs Polina from her childhood, reminds that “The audience must see nothing except the emotion you are conveying. If you don’t show them grace and lightness, they will only see effort and strain.” Of her own intention or merely by Vivès fateful hand, Polina’s every appearance is an exploration of her teacher’s admonition. Vivès is intent on pushing tremendous readability into every panel. We know Polina’s thoughts by her look, by her face, by the way her body hangs in the space she occupies. We know her relationship to those around her by Vivès’ use of positioning and body language.

Polina is a book about perception and appearance. The world as it is and the world as we see it and the world as we present it. Polina is about beauty and distress. Polina investigates, by charting a small dancer’s path to womanhood, the way the choices we make inform not only our circumstances but the manner in which we see those circumstances. It’s rare to find a tightly woven narrative that simultaneously gives its story the chance to breathe, but Polina does that. Nothing, not even the emptiness, feels as excess. All of it is present for its purpose, but Polina introduces us to the idea that being governed by a fate and destiny (as all stories are) doesn’t have to feel constrictive.

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