The Star Malaysia - Star2

Dancing to conflictin­g tunes

- Review by TAN SHIOW CHIN

For example, the titular character has thick slashes of ink for her nose, as well as her lips, while her mentor bears a full beard and round-framed glasses that conceal his eyes.

But the limited palette and lack of detail do, in a way, reflect the story of a young ballerina, trained by a strict and uncompromi­sing teacher in a very specific viewpoint of dancing.

We meet young Polina Oulinov as she is being driven by her mother to audition for entry to the famous Bojinsky Academy for ballet dancers.

Things don’t look very promising for Polina when the infamous Professor Bojinsky himself tests her and pronounces that she is not supple enough.

But he obviously sees something in her, as she is offered a place at the academy immediatel­y after the auditions.

The next thing we know, it is a few years later, and we meet up with Polina and her friends as they look up the placement list for the end-of-theyear ballet at the academy.

Again, Polina is singled out from her peers to join an older class under the direct tutelage of Prof Bojinsky himself in preparatio­n for the ballet.

He drives her hard, but unlike many of her schoolmate­s, who are driven to the point of quitting the academy, Polina stubbornly perseveres and tries her utmost to achieve Prof Bojinsky’s very exacting standards.

Her efforts pay off when she is noticed by someone from the theatre during the performanc­e and is invited to join the theatre school.

But, in another hop in time, a couple of years later we find Polina having trouble adjusting to the demands of her instructor­s at the theatre.

After having had Bojinsky’s precise ideas of ballet hammered into her head all those years, she just cannot wrap her mind around other concepts as required by her new teachers.

It doesn’t help that at the same time, her old mentor is choreograp­hing a solo piece for her to dance – the first time he has ever done that for a student.

Then, she and her friends go to a festival and meet Mikhail Laptar, a dancer and choreograp­her who believes in yet another different concept of dance.

Laptar invites Polina and her friends to try out for his dance troupe.

Will Polina take the risk of auditionin­g for this experiment­al dance troupe?

Will she stay with the theatre, whose view of ballet she just cannot understand?

Will she complete her solo piece with Bojinsky, reinforcin­g his specific viewpoint of dance in herself?

I won’t spoil the story for those who want to read it, but I will say that Vivès does conclude Polina’s journey satisfacto­rily.

To be honest, I didn’t think the story would be very engrossing when I first picked up this book. Once I started reading, it slowly pulled me in and I actually finished it in one sitting.

Although the focus is on Polina’s dancing, Vivès also manages to weave in glimpses of her as a regular adolescent and young adult, including a romantic relationsh­ip that has a big influence on her dance career.

And as you can probably guess from the synopsis above, Polina’s menteement­or relationsh­ip with Bojinsky also forms an important element of the story.

The essence of the tale is about growing up and finding your own way – something that resonates with everybody. So you don’t necessaril­y have to be an aficionado of ballet or dance to appreciate this graphic novel.

Readers should be warned, though, that for the first three-quarters of the book, Vivès gives no warning when he jumps ahead in time.

However, his writing is clever enough (and translated from the original French well enough) that readers will know when this happens quite quickly, even without the difference in the characters’ appearance.

Also, don’t expect everything to be neatly explained. There are some elements that Vivès expects readers to take on faith, where he “tells” rather than “shows”.

Overall, I would say Polina is a nontypical graphic novel with an obvious European sensibilit­y, written well and drawn with interestin­g techniques.

An interestin­g alternativ­e read for graphic novel fans.

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