Performing Arts: Dance
January 31, 2014
There was no stopping Martha Hill from spreading the gospel of dance through the American education system. A wiry woman from East Palestine, Ohio, Ms. Hill was a no nonsense woman who came to NYC, worked with Martha Graham in 1930 and landed a job at NYU. Although passionate about dance, she recognized the limitations of her performance and choreographic talents. As a result, the fledgling dance community would be forever transformed in 1934 when Ms. Hill founded the Dance Department in a new liberal arts college Bennington.

The story of American dance unfolds in MISS HILL: MAKING DANCE MATTER a fine documentary by Greg Vander Veer. Grainy black and white moving images of dance icons recall days of creative adventures and self-defining techniques. Through editor Elisa Da Prato’s sharp eye, the film's narrative is fine-tuned through the film clips and commentary by historians, dancers and educators close to Ms. Hill.

Her greatest legacy came as the head of the prestigious Juilliard dance department. Insistent on producing well rounded dancers, she Despite the antagonism that existed between modern dance and ballet professionals, Ms. Hill insisted her students be taught both and learn from the from the giants of dance including Antony Tudor, Jose Limon, Martha Graham, Hanya Holm, Charles Weidman, Martha Craske, and Anna Sokowl.

Finally, the indomitable Ms. Hill met her match in Lincoln Kirsten. Juilliard was invited into the Lincoln Center complex, but Kirstein made a "land grab" for Julliard’s dance studios. Ford Foundation money was siphoned into NYCB for George Balanchine, and serious politics nearly flattened Juilliard Dance department's footprint. Daunted but not broken, Ms. Hill wrangled two out of six studios and in a late night stealth operation described by Dennis Nahat, she occupied an office for the department.

Questions might arise about subjects Mr. Vander Veer chose to interview and/or include in the final cut. But there are always mitigating circumstances that play into the final-cut including politics, copyright issues and an individual’s availability. For the most part, MISS HILL: MAKING DANCE MATTER is a ringing endorsement for the future of dance.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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