The Contributions of Martha Hill to American Dance and Dance Education, 1900–1995 The Contributions of Martha Hill to American Dance
and Dance Education, 1900–1995

By Elizabeth McPherson

Edwin Mellon Press, 2008

A Review

This is a compendium of extant sources on the life of Martha Hill. It covers her documented vitae from grade school until her death. While this is an unimaginative approach, it is certainly warranted. The influences that grade school gymnastics and high school hockey may have had on Martha’s life work are treated, not a matter for speculation, but of fact, and they do lead us to the persona of Martha Hill. They speak for her physical exuberance and verve. These details also have tidbits of delight for me (and for anyone “of age”) who has had similar experiences and dance offerings as a child and high school and college student. It details her development of the dance program at New York University, and then at Bennington College, Connecticut, and the American Dance Festival. In doing so it leads logically to the conservatory curriculum that she engendered at Julliard. At a time when modernism and classicism were deemed opposite poles of the dance aesthetic, when prominent modern dance artists were wont to isolate their techniques, she managed to encompass them all—a harbinger, perhaps, of the time when choreographers could make dances from out their own vision rather than with technical “rules.”

By including statements from four of her Julliard students, Mc Pherson leads us to see Martha Hill as a helmsman who steered her students with warmth and with real concern for their welfare, but with her vision of what should be. She was a net worker and a manager. She sought to encompass current aesthetics, to taste and understand it all. We come to know the complexities and the universality of her intellect and her aesthetic.

Above all, we may come to appreciate the scope of dance in the twentieth century, which Martha Hill brought together. She knew the whole of it, and through this compendium we are led to know it too.

—Ruth Grauert, May 20, 2008