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Overachieving undergrads prep for unique performance

A dancer in red and a dancer in black frolic through a pile of crumpled newspapers. Then the dancer in black mimics injecting herself in the arm and is carried away by four others as if floating away in a drug-induced stupor.

These are just two scenes of USF’s first, free student-run dance performance, “And the Ashes Felt Like Rain.” Five undergraduates from the School of Dance star in  the show, which follows five female characters as they deal with personal obstacles such as drugs, sex and friendship.

“It’s about how we find comfort in each other when confronted with these problems,” said Rose Deangelo, a junior majoring in dance. “We explore ideas such as acceptance in the field of dance, influence from the media and drugs and companionship.”

Choreographer Kellie Harmon, a junior majoring in dance, drew inspiration for the show from her study abroad trip to Paris last June. She said the title comes from the idea of coming to terms when things are falling apart.

“I always see rain as a comforting thing,” she said. “It’s about the comfort of acceptance when something goes wrong. Once you realize something’s falling apart, you have that moment where you have to accept it.”

The show consists of nine pieces of mostly contemporary and modern dance, performed to music by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Etta James. All the dancers agreed that this show is not the average dance performance.

Some standout qualities include an undercover audience member who is actually part of the show, an intimate, up-close setting and the juxtaposition of positively themed music with negatively themed dancing.

“We have all these high, upbeat songs, but the movements and the gestures and what we’re trying to get across completely contradicts what the words say,” said Amanda Cox, a junior majoring in dance. “During ‘What a Wonderful World,’ we’re, like, beating each other up.”

Deangelo said this performance stands apart from others she’s been involved in at USF behind the scenes as well. 

“This isn’t for a grade or anything, this is just (Harmon) wanting to do this, so this is really her taking her personal time to put this together,” she said. “It’s coming from a really organic place.”

Shannon Hope, a junior majoring in dance, said she appreciates the relaxed structure of the student-run performance.

“With Kellie being a student just like us, she was really lenient about rehearsal and understanding that we have lives outside of dance,” she said. “It’s just more youthful and relaxed.”

Harmon said it wasn’t hard to convince Marc Powers, director of the School of Theatre and Dance, to allow this show to happen. All she had to do for permission to start the project was ask.

“Honestly, I think that I was just the first person to ask,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to do a show and I thought that I could do it, so I just went to them and asked them. They’re always very supportive.”

Harmon said the performers’ character traits developed by collaborating with her fellow dancers. She described her own character as “the whiny one,” while Cox said she’s the one who makes people laugh and cry.

“I try to express that through my gestures and facial expressions,” she said. “As a dancer, I really like that challenge, playing both of those roles.”

As for Hope, she said she’s the “b——- character.”

“I am more focused on myself than I am on the rest of the dancers,” she said of her character. “I tend to have an attitude that I’m just kind of bored and waiting for everything to be over.”

Though the story is told through women and focuses on a career in dance, Hope said the themes are universal.

“The show that we’re doing is based on a young person’s life and what they go through,” she said. “It’s about the struggles, and everyone can relate to that.”

“And the Ashes Felt Like Rain” runs Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Theatre Building room 120.