An ensemble of nine dancers stands together with their hands joined. Their bodies seamlessly flow in a circle. They move in all directions—still joined at the hands. Then, after the dancers settle in a moment of stillness, their bodies collapse towards the center and they repeat it again—a steady rhythm where the body rises and falls. And as we watch the Limón Dance Company rehearse, the film plays a voiceover of renowned choreographer and dancer, José Limón, as he says, “To show a student, to show him that his orchestra, his ballad, his body is a most infinitely capable instrument that there is.”
José Limón is just one of many talented choreographers and dancers that Martha Hill provided with a space to cultivate, nourish, and ultimately, execute their visions for the future of dance. Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter documents the life of Martha Hill, her legacy, and the strides she made in order to make modern dance the respected art form it is today. The film tells the story of modern dance entwined with the visuals of past and present dancers as a tribute to Martha Hill’s lasting legacy in the dance community.
From the very beginning, the film reminds us that, at its core, modern dance is a form of rebellion. In 1900, when Martha Hill is born, modern dance is seen as a sinful display against the Puritan tradition. Through the old videos throughout the documentary, we understand why: modern dance unleashes freedom in the body and by doing so, creates a form of dance that is seemingly boundless.
Ovid.tv Puts Spotlight on Organizing Modern Dance
We learn from the film that in 1932, Robert Devore Leigh, the president of Bennington College, asks Martha Hill to organize the dance department. She then joins Bennington College and also creates Bennington School of the Dance, a summer program to study modern dance. Hill has modern dance visionaries like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and others teach at Bennington. By creating this environment, Hill becomes the trunk of the modern dance tree, uniting modern dance in one place.
We listen as countless giants in the dance industry detail how incredibly remarkable Hill was to create such an opportunity for these dancers. Meanwhile we watch still photos from the Bennington School of the Dance flash on the screen. We see large groups of dancers outside on the grass creating abstract forms, rising and falling from the ground, and exploring the different ways they can shape their bodies. This montage of old footage not only summarizes but celebrates modern dance as an art form.
A Marriage Of Ballet And Modern -- Radical and Revolutionary
Martha Hill’s career then takes her to the dance department at Juilliard. She, again, creates a space for dancers to study from the best. Leading choreographers from both the ballet and modern dance world, with already established companies, come to teach at Juilliard. The various individuals featured in the film explain how Martha was adamant that both ballet and modern dance were taught—a revolutionary and radical idea at the time. To many, ballet and modern were opposites, but Hill understood how training in both styles strengthened a dancer’s repertoire.
Those interviewed in the film clearly have the greatest appreciation and respect for Martha Hill. They explain their utmost appreciation for her impact in stimulating the modern dance movement. Yet, they also share some of her faults—her strictness and harsh exterior at times—not shying away from the failings during Hill’s life.
Viewers should not expect this film to be a mere biography, but instead, a film that celebrates and honors the roots of modern dance, just as Miss Hill did. Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter is a film not only for lovers of dance but anyone who loves the arts and the teachers who lead the way.
Director - Greg Vander Veer
Editor - Elisa Da Prato
Cinematographer - Peter Eliot Buntaine
For more information or to watch the film, see the OVID.tv webpage for MISS HILL: MAKING DANCE MATTER
Images courtesy of OVID.tv
About the Author:
Sabrina Lee is a sophomore at Hofstra University pursuing a B.A. in Journalism. Raised in Orange County, California, she has been a gymnast, dancer, and coach. In her free time, she loves watching movies, eating Korean food, and practicing her poker skills. Sabrina's favorite place to be is in the audience of a Broadway show.