Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Girl Through Glass.
Wilson segues between two realities, one in the present, the other 1970s New York. Dance professor Kate Randell is hoping for tenure at the college where she
teaches, but a recent misstep in her personal life may have put that opportunity in jeopardy. Then Kate receives a letter that brings the past hurtling back, a missive from an elderly man who was a pivotal influence on her childhood dream to become a ballerina.
As Kate considers the significance of the letter, deciding whether or not to contact its author, the character of
11-year-old Mira Able takes shape in 1970s New York, seduced by the world of ballet, the all-consuming, claustrophobic atmosphere of a young dancer striving for excellence, to be the ballerina on the stage everyone is watching. With a sensible, unemotional father and a flamboyant, red-haired mother with artistic inclinations, Mira’s parents seem an odd fit, he most comfortable in the business world, Rachel buffeted about by one creative project after another. Both fade into the background as Mira devotes her energy to studying ballet at a small
but respectable studio, hoping one day to audition for the prestigious School of
Even as her parents’ marriage crumbles in the face of incompatibility, Mira is consumed by the demands of dance, one among a flock of girls in leotards and toe shoes whose colors connote the level of their skills: “I need to keep myself contained. I learned that the hard way.” Certain she has the talent and ambition to be one of the best;, Mira applies herself religiously to her lessons. When she meets the dapper, diminutive Maurice Dupont at the studio, she has no conception of how much his interest in her will aid her trajectory into the intimate society of ballet cognoscenti. Mira welcomes Maurice’s visits, his belief in her spurring success, assured that she may indeed become a memorable ballerina.
She begins to rely on Maurice for encouragement and support, eschewing all else for his approval: “I loved him as only a girl could love him. With stars in her eyes, with dreams in her heart.” Eventually Mira will move to Manhattan, close to the heart of her chosen career and the School of American Ballet. Her relationship with her mother is fractious, her father distant,
albeit supportive. The passionate young ballerina is oblivious to all but dance, relationships with others secondary to the demands of a competitive environment: “in the face of beautiful, monstrous life baring its teeth, death in its mouth… I turn my face away.” Years later, we see Kate Randell suffering the effects of such detachment as the young Mira, fleeing campus to confront a past that has haunted her.
The exclusive, pervasive demands of dance become the backdrop for the melding of past and present, a childhood defined by the rigors and rewards of ballet, the asceticism and glory of physical pain, a purging of emotion that defines adulthood, the unusual relationship with a mentor that worships her perfection (in sharp contrast to his own deficiencies) and the dramatic event that bifurcates childhood ambition from adult reality. While the dance world is often suffocating in its intensity, Wilson’s imagery soars as freely as the ballerina flying across the stage. Perfection is her ideal, sacrifice her companion: “What a fool is the girl who desires to be a princess, trapped in the tower of her own making.”
While Mira grapples with the cost of a career in dance, her relationship with Maurice imposes a burden she carries beyond those heady days: “There was something wild about my pain that I couldn’t put into words and that, finally, I couldn’t part with.” Girl Through Glass pulls back the curtain, revealing the dark side of ballet along with its ephemeral beauty, the past finally put to rest, the magic of childhood dreams locked in the pages of memory.