West Virginia University undergraduates Bec Hyde and Elena Maddy are the creative minds behind “Audacious Women,” an Honors EXCEL dance project analyzing the rules society imposes on women and how those rules impact women’s sexuality, sensuality and sense of self.
Elena and I both have backgrounds in classical ballet, which has rigid gender roles. Women dance en pointe. Men lift the women. There’s not a lot of space for nonbinary dancers.
“Audacious Women” premiered Feb. 18, 2023 at the College of Creative Arts, the week after Hyde and Maddy presented their concept to state lawmakers during West Virginia Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol.
The two connected instantly upon arrival at WVU. Both are dual majors in musical theatre and dance; both are children of alumni/ae. As emergent choreographers, they created a dance piece together before either one had choreographed independently. Later, they had to learn to work apart.
Now, as time-tested collaborators, they’re complementary, not identical: Maddy studied ballet from an early age and “always preferred adagio movements,” for example, while Hyde trained in ballet, hip-hop, tap and American Kenpo Karate, and “loves the quick, spritely movements of petit allegro.”
They plan to move to New York together after graduation in May 2023. And while they’re at it, they just might turn “Audacious Women” into a nonprofit dance company.
Q: How did research shape the choreography of “Audacious Women”?
Maddy: Many stories important to the project represented experiences we haven’t gone through ourselves. We researched childbirth and labor, postpartum depression and psychosis, and abortion. We looked at the biological and psychological parts of these subjects, but we found a deeper layer in women’s personal accounts.
Hyde: For example, stories from women with postpartum psychosis who reached out for a long time for help some never received.
Maddy: Our research reminded us why we chose to tell these stories. The emotional narratives and the rigid scientific definitions we discovered influenced our choreography and the quality of movement.
Hyde: We’ve also researched gendered movement within dance. Elena and I both have backgrounds in classical ballet, which has rigid gender roles. Women dance en pointe. Men lift the women. There’s not a lot of space for nonbinary dancers. That’s why we choreographed “Audacious Women” as modern dance. Modern is an abstracted form of movement that typically disregards gender in its composition. We explored nongendered movement by playing with dynamics like two women partnering with each other.
Q: Where did the music come from?
Maddy: In spring of 2021, Bec and I were in our first choreography class, and we would spitball all these social advocacy ideas. Well, we decided to combine those and work with them –
Hyde: – and once we had decided that, we spent three days locked in my room putting Post-its on a wall to piece together the crazy concept that became “Audacious Women.” Somewhere in that three-day creative haze, we found the music.
Maddy: We discussed the vibes of the pieces: Does this dance have words or should it be instrumental? From there we searched for music that fit, which worked for all except one of the pieces.
Hyde: I ended up creating that piece. It explores how powerful it is that women can create life and go through labor when they choose. It’s composed of breathwork and percussion, all of which I did on my bathroom floor with a blanket over my head to muffle the sound.
Q: Did you work with faculty mentors?
Maddy: Our advisor Dr. Yoav Kaddar was the one who suggested incorporating spoken word, which was a gamechanger.
Hyde: Dr. Kaddar was an incredible counselor and guide throughout this passion project. It means a lot to have someone who wants you to succeed and works to help make your idea possible. He and Dr. Mikylah Myers, who helped make it an EXCEL project so we could secure extra resources, are two of the most supportive people. They truly deserve the world.
Q: Best memories from creating this production?
Hyde: Well, there was the time we went to the woods on the night of a flower moon and danced for inspiration!
But my favorite part was watching our dancers put their artistic individuality into the work. As choreographers, we teach the material we created to the dancers and coach them, but then the movement becomes theirs, and you see their personalities come out. It’s beautiful to watch.
Maddy: One beautiful moment was when all the dancers saw the last piece of the show for the first time. That piece is a glimpse into a world where women are free just to be, without societal rules. We have a fantastic dance faculty member in the show, Maureen Mansfield Kaddar, and when she came onstage to dance her part in rehearsal for the first time, there was this rippled gasp throughout the room. A few of us were in tears, everyone was so moved by her performance.
Q: What has dance taught you about yourselves?
Maddy: I consider myself more of a modern dancer now, but I spent 18 years thinking of myself as a ballerina, so I have experienced two sides of the spectrum– structured, picturesque techniques, and techniques rooted in free, organic movement. A dancer doesn’t have to choose one or the other, so learning how to reconcile these two styles in my body has helped me explore the delicate balance that exists everywhere between structure and freedom.
Hyde: Shortly after I came out as bisexual my first year at WVU, I choreographed a solo about my experience as a queer individual who was closeted for a good portion of my life. I look back all the time at the video of me dancing that solo. It was a moment when I was incredibly honest with myself. Dance allowed me to develop that acceptance of myself, and I hope people who watch and partake in dance can also use it to learn about their sexuality, sensuality and sense of self – and allow themselves to thrive in the beauty of it.
Written by Micaela Morrissette