Sentimental memories of my mum aside. Martha Hill comes across in the film Making Dance Matter as a champion of the avant-garde. Although she began her career as a dancer in Martha Graham's company, she soon discovered an aptitude for administration and pedagogy, which would lead to her long term role as Juiliard's director of dance (1952-1985).
Using old footage of her schools - including some spectacular sequences of many of the great American Modern Dance pioneers - and interviews with Hill and her friends - Making Dance Matter serves as a fine testimony to someone who could be ferocious but also dedicated to her students' excellence. That her latter years were tangled by a conflict with New York Ballet over who got the best studios during the relocation of Juilliard only emphasises that here was a woman unwilling to bow to even the brightest names in the ballet firmament.
American Modern Dance - and its offshoots, such as the dance theatre developed by Pina Bausch - is one
|My mum and my sister|
The film has the charm of a lovingly crafted obituary. It never baulks at showing Hill's ferocity, but dwells on her compassion and enthusiasm. Her pupils do remember her power, but also a more nurturing side, and the film operates both as an essay on her influence and as a marvellous archive of contemporary dance vocabularies.
Of course, without Miss Hill, there would never have been the Sunday lunch arguments between Vile Jnr and his mother regarding the relative aesthetic worth of ballet against AMD. So, I can thank Hill for the long silences and my mother's continued campaign, a bit like Freddie Mercury, to bring ballet to the masses.