OVID is a subscription video-on-demand service that provides North American viewers numerous documentaries, independent films, and notable works of international cinema that are, for the most part, unavailable on other platforms. Launched in 2019, OVID was supported by eight small, independent film distribution companies. That number has now grown to 58 and boasts of a library of approximately 2,095 film titles. Its dance collection includes films on modern dance choreographers Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, Maguy Marin, Bill T. Joanes, Mathilde Monnier, Paul Taylor, Marius Petipa, and Angela Bowen. There are films of complete classical ballets and the collection extends to films about Hip Hop with the recently released “Rookies”directed by Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai, and at least three recordings of Dance Camera West Festivals.
The dance community has lost many of its dance pioneers and renowned dancers over recent years including Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Pina Bausch, Trisha Brown, Viola Farber, Rudy Perez, Mary Jane Eisenberg, Sally Stackhouse, and others. I have therefore selected director Greg Vander Veer’s Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter as the first of OVID.tv’s dance collection to write about because it is a monumental documentary that every current and inspiring dancer, dance history teacher, and dance historian should see.
Martha Hill was not a famous dancer or choreographer but due to her strength as a visionary, her intelligence, her intuition, and yes, her tenacity became the driving force behind dance programs being included in almost every college or university around the United States. Hill was indeed a true dance pioneer who continued working into her late 80s to further the cause of dance in America. Without her support, dance artists such as Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Paul Taylor and many others might not have had such exposure and success.
Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter takes the viewer from Miss Hill’s humble upbringing in East Palestine, Ohio to the end of her life at the age of 92. This is, however, not a stuffy fact-filled documentary, although there is an extraordinary amount of historical information provided. It includes vintage film clips of Miss Hill dancing with other young women in the fields alongside a river and some film clips and photographs of dances foremothers and forefathers.
Martha Hill went on to become the founding director of the dance programs/departments at New York University’s School of Education where she taught dance in the Physical Education department starting in 1930 and in 1938 Hill instigated the graduate program in dance education. She also started the dance program at Bennington College (1932), and The Juilliard School (1951) as well as The Bennington School of the Dance (1934) and The Connecticut College School of the Dance (1948), forerunners to The American Dance Festival (ADF), one of the most prominent festivals in the United States.
It was while Miss Hill was working part time at Bennington College, a Liberal Arts college located in Bennington, Vermont that its director asked her how they could increase the college’s visibility in dance. Her answer, “Why don’t we start a dance school?” Along with the college’s support and the help of Mary Jo Shelly, the Bennington School of the Dance made its debut in the summer of 1934 with Martha Graham, Charles Weidman, Doris Humphrey, and Hanya Holm becoming its key faculty members.
There is historically priceless vintage film footage in Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter of young choreographers who would later become known as modern dance pioneers; and the early and current years of the Bennington School of the Dance. Footage includes classes at The Julliard School/Dance along with a thorough behind-the-scenes look at how Julliard came close to losing its entire dance department while the New York Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was being planned and built..
Among some of the most memorable moments in the film are the interviews with, footage and photos of former and current dance figures such as Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Deborah Jowitt, Bessie Schönberg, Pina Bausch, Anna Sokolow, Bruce Marks, Charles Reinhart, Janet Soares, Diana Byers, Gerri Houlihan, Mark Heim, Risa Steinberg, José Limón, George Balanchine, Carla Maxwell, Alfred Corvino, Margaret Craske, John Martin, Louis Horst, Martha Clark, Yasuko Tokunaga; Lance Westergard, Daniel Lewis, Ohad Naharin, Anthony Tutor and numerous others.
A quote spoken by Miss Hill at the beginning of the film that resonated with me was “Modern dance is not a system. It is a point of view” and near the end of the documentary, dancer and choreographer Francis Patrelle summed up just who Martha Hill was as a dance visionary and pioneer: “Some people build a cult around themselves. Martha built a cult around dance rather than a person.”
The Director of Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter was Greg Vander Veer, Editor: Elisa Da Prato, Cinematographer: Peter Eliot Buntaine; Music: Florent Ghys;
To learn more about OVID, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Young modern dancers (circa 1930) – Screenshot from “Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter” courtesy of OVID.