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Preview: MaryAnn McGovern’s SPRAWL

Written by Mariko Nagashima

MaryAnn McGovern and Dancers in rehearsal for SPRAWL
Photo by Jordan Schulz
Chicagonative and recent Seattletransplant MaryAnn McGovern is becoming a new force in the local dance scene. SPRAWL, her first full show in Seattle, is scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday evening, July 14 and 15, at 8pm at VelocityDanceCenter. “Feats of choreographic magic like [SPRAWL] are rare and very special,” proclaimed SeattleDances writer Anne Lawrence after seeing an excerpt at The Bridge Project earlier this year. The full show this weekend promises to expand on this already strong body of work. SeattleDances recently had the opportunity to chat with McGovern about her transition to Seattleand her upcoming show.
SD: Tell us about your company and what prompted your relocation here in Seattle
MM: I started my company in Chicago in 2009 shortly after completing my degree in dance from ColumbiaCollege. More than anything, it has been an exploration – finding my artistic voice and learning as I go. I lean towards dance theater, layering my work with text and song, but I believe that movement is meaningful and can speak for itself.  This interplay is what I believe makes my work unique.
My decision to move to Seattlewas based on a desire for change.  I visited here a few years ago and fell in love with the city and landscape.  I was also confident that I would be able to continue to pursue my career in dance, as this is a city known for fostering creativity.
SD: How did the idea for SPRAWL develop? 
MM: During and after college I spent a lot of time moving back and forth between the suburbs and the city of Chicagoand began to notice stark lifestyle differences that led me to believe that the current suburban lifestyle is not sustainable. This fostered a few questions: why did Americans choose this lifestyle in such large numbers; what is happening to the suburbs now, during this economic crisis; and what will happen in the future? 
In a history of Chicagocourse at ColumbiaCollege I learned of the White Flight, which both intrigued and angered me.  I wondered if this was a phenomenon experienced all over the country.  In my research, I found that the Great Migration – African Americans migrating from the south to large cities in the north in the mid-twentieth century, led to white people fleeing en masse to suburbs everywhere, though their motivations may have been masked. Sustainability and race relations were the biggest catalysts for this work, which led me to explore a range of other related topics.  
SD: What has the rehearsal process been like for this particular piece?
MM: My process is always collaborative. I would say that 90% of the movement in this piece is created by this cast, and the casts of SPRAWL parts 1 and 2.  The first day of rehearsal for each iteration of this piece began with me asking the dancers to create eight or so movements that remind them of the word sprawl.  We sequenced each of their movements into a long phrase that became the base of the work and from that phrase, we extracted almost everything you will see in the show – duets, amoebic group forms, even pieces of heavy machinery. While my dancers generate a great deal of the movement itself, I am responsible for arranging it, crafting it, and making meaning from it.
SD: What do you hope the audience will take away from this show? 
MM: Spoiler alert: The work posits that the cause of our economic meltdown is suburbanization draining our natural resources. It gently suggests that if we let go of what we don’t need, we can still be fulfilled in our lives. Population will continue to grow, and people have to live somewhere. Whether it be in large cities, suburbs, or rural areas, we can all make lifestyle changes to live more responsibly. My hope is that my audience will take a moment to think about this in their own lives.
SD: Are you enjoying the dance climate in Seattle so far
MM: I am amazed at the amount of opportunities there are for young dancemakers here.  I felt so fortunate to have been able to create work for the Bridge Project just months after I arrived in Seattle. Back in Chicagothere are just a handful of opportunities for emerging choreographers, and the competition is fierce. We found some really creative ways to get our work out there, which built a community of young self-starters that I’ve come to miss terribly. But the Seattledance community is so warm, welcoming, and supportive – and I am thrilled to be making my home here.
For more information on MaryAnn McGovern and Dancers see: To purchase tickets for SPRAWL see: