For the Love of the Dance

A follow up with the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater.

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Photo by Dean Paul

Company dancer Monica Saucedo dances in Dame Libby Komaiko’s “Bolero.”

Rut Ortiz, News Editor

The gem of the J Building is at it again, celebrating their 40th anniversary the only way the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater knows how to: with absolutely unadulterated passion.

August 2016 marks their very first tour in Spain that came via personal invitation.

“It’s not our mission as American artists to present to Spain Spanish dance but the invitation has come from the mayor of Fuenlabrada,” said Jorge Perez, executive director of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater. “We’ll be in one of the theaters in Fuenlabrada … in Madrid, the Marquina Theater, so we are super excited.

“The dancers are excited and nervous about that but I think that’s the beauty of this particular celebration. It’s our mission to bring Spanish dance here and take it around the world but the invitation came … I think they’re going to be mesmerized by the love, labor and passion that we have been presenting for 40 years.”

The celebration also takes the form of their annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival, stretching from June 8-25.

“It kicked off last summer during the 2015/2016 season with over 100 performances nationwide as well as an intense outreach program serving over 26,000 children,” Perez said.

The empirical nonprofit company owes its roots to its founder and NEIU Professor Emeritus Dame Libby Komaiko, who founded the company in 1975. Komaiko started the Ensemble 40 years ago with only seven NEIU students. In addition to the adult company, the Ensemble also has a youth company that caters to youths between the ages of 10 to early twenties.

Claudia Pizarro is an NEIU alumna who described her time with Ensemble Español. She graduated in May 2008 with her bachelor’s in Finance and a minor in Accounting.

“I have been with the company since 2003,” Pizarro said. “When I saw the company for the first time, I flipped. I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Pizarro was just promoted to first dancer, which is the highest rank among all of the dancers within the company.

“For me it’s such an honor that they promoted me. It’s such an amazing experience to be part of the fortieth anniversary,” she said. “To be able to share everything I have done and what we have done with the community, with the audience, is just an honor.”

Perez said the company brings guests from Spain for the festival for two weeks so that members of the company and the community have a chance “to learn the dances of España in the classical, folkloric and flamenco styles.”

The festival started the summer of this year on June 8 with a concert at the Old Towne School of Folk Music seating approximately 400 patrons. In its entirety it is a culmination of 48 classes and workshops with dance classes taught across three levels of experience.

Classes range from learning the Tango to the history of Spanish dance and will continue until the end of the festival, which is on June 25.

Perez described the performance concert component at the Northshore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie that showcased a new contemporary ballet titled, “Iroko,” named after an African tree and choreographed by two renowned guest artists from Spain, Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez.

“We are really, really excited for this ballet,” Perez said.

According to Perez, the choreographers chose the title of the ballet for Ensemble Español as an analogy between the roots of the tree and the ancestors of Spanish dance in an effort to show them honor while the branches of the tree represent the new generations of young dancers keeping Spanish dance alive.

Perez said that a majority of the dancers at Ensemble Española are students of NEIU and after 13 years, Pizarro can’t imagine being without the company.

“It makes me feel alive. If I don’t dance, if I don’t perform, it’s not me and I’m not happy,” she said. “This is my work, this is my job. I teach, I perform, I choreograph … this is a part of my life. So I really don’t see myself doing something else.”

Students who want to get involved with the Ensemble can reach out to them by visiting the J Building on main campus or learning more about the company at www.ensembleespanol.org.