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By Mark Bell | January 28, 2015

I can’t say enough about Greg Vander Veer’s outstanding documentary, Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter. Whether or not you’re familiar with this pioneering educator of modern dance, there’s no doubt you’ll be highly moved, by the conclusion of Vander Veer’s film.

Chances are, most people outside of the dance community, haven’t heard of Martha Hill of East Palestine, Ohio. Hill was born on December 1, 1900 and passed away at her home in Brooklyn, New York on November 19, 1995. Hill began her career as a dancer but discovered her true calling as an educator of modern dance at Bennington College in Vermont. There, she was the founding director of the dance department and Bennington’s American Dance Festival (this famous modern dance event is now held at Duke University and the Durham Performing Arts Center in North Carolina). After leaving Bennington, Hill pioneered the dance division at the prestigious Juilliard School at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Hill taught at Juilliard for 30-plus years until her suggested retirement in 1985, when she was in her mid-eighties.

What’s notable about Miss Hill is its complete lack of the usual documentary fillers, such as gimmicky intertitles, or animated figures used to accentuate the director’s point of view. Instead, Vander Veer uses rare footage of Martha Hill, her students and numerous noteworthy members of the distant past and present, of the music and dance communities. These include Leonard Bernstein, Robert Battle, Martha Clarke and Dennis Nahat (whose comments, about how Hill staked out her two dance spaces at Lincoln Center, are tear-jerking, uplifting and wildly funny, all at the same time).
Film editor Elisa De Prato should be given special accolades for the most amazing transitions between times past and present that I’ve ever seen. These cinematic changes are so smooth and natural it’s as if time doesn’t exist at all. Success with this type of editing is rare in historical documentary projects and can only be called artistry.

A very special thanks should be given to Greg Vander Veer, for sharing the vulnerabilities and strengths of the oh-so-human Martha Hill— and showing us that even our wildest dreams are always within our reach.

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