New Work Reignites a Choreographer’s Creative Spark

Photo: Kamau Studios

Calia Marshall (background) and Katie Dean (foreground) articulate the ins and outs of long-time love in Down Here, Shannon Hammel’s first new work in five years. Photo: Kamau Studios

After the birth of her first child and the founding of her own dance studio, there was a period of time when Shannon Hummel seriously questioned whether she’d ever choreograph again.

“It was the feeling that opening this space to be a home for my work…consumed all of my time, so I had no time to make work,” says Hummel, who premiered her first new choreography in five years, Down Here, at The Cora Studio on Richards Street last week during her dance company’s 2013 New York season opening.

Photo: Heidi Zarou

Choreographer Shannon Hummel rekindled her creative spark after motherhood and starting her own studio almost exhausted it. Photo: Heidi Zarou

“I felt like I was running a business and not being creative in any capacity that’s connected to my soul.”

Seeing her son Henry, now six, and the studio, now four, both flourish in the past few years is what ultimately gave Hummel the ability to rekindle her creative spark. Prior to pregnancy and entrepreneurialism, she had a successful career presenting commissioned works in places like 92nd Street Y, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, Dixon Place and The Brooklyn Museum, as well as universities and institutions around the country.

“I think in my previous life, pre-Cora Studio, pre-being a mother, I would just sort of let things drift,” she says. “I manhandled this a little more. I knew what I wanted.”

Down Here is a dance duet that focuses on the ebbs and flows of long-term relationships, and is unnervingly articulated by dancers Katie Dean and Calia Marshall.

“Everything I make starts with the dancers,” Hummel says. “I always gravitate to really strong performers who have an emotionality that feels authentic to me.”

In return, dancers like Dean praise Hummel for her ability to create choreography that consumes them and transports them for a time to someplace else. “Shannon creates livable worlds for dancers,” Dean says. “I love that she creates an authentic world that I get to live in for a period of time.”

The second half of Cora’s 2013 season run starts tomorrow, Wednesday, March 6, and finishes on Saturday, March 9. Each night’s performance is split into two parts–the first is a work from a guest choreographer followed by a performance of Down Here. The guest choreographer on Wednesday and Friday nights is Courtney Cooke. Cooke, who lives in Bushwick, plans on premiering, Steeper Beast, a brand-new piece influenced by her work teaching dance to children and autistic students.

“This will be the first time it is presented in front of an audience,” says Cooke. “I was interested in exploring a dance where spontaneity had room to exist. ‘Steeper Beast’ is a structured, improvised score that technically starts before the audience arrives.”

In addition to dancing in Down Here every night, Dean will premiere her first full work for Cora, Royal Jelly, this week on Thursday and Saturday nights.

Sitting in the studio’s performance space and savoring the silence after a sold-out show last Friday night, it’s clear that Hummel’s imagination is reignited. “I don’t ever think in words, and so I’m always trying to describe what I see,” she says. “In that way, I feel like I’m always making the next dance.”

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