By Rebecca Nieves
Edited by Angie Rentmeester
The fingers dance on the strings of the guitar in a dizzying manner. The modern guitar is said to be a descendent of the Spanish “viola de mano” or a lute like instrument. The instrument was given another two strings to make six and the neck was narrowed. The way the guitarists hands move over his strings, he could have been the one to forge the acoustic into being. Enter the dancers-the most appropriate response to the guitars cries of pride and beauty and of love.
In Chicago, the dancers call themselves Ensemble Espanol. The highly decorated Libby Komaiko is the director and originator of the Northeastern Illinois University based company. Komaiko, a professional dancer and instructor, has received numerous awards and recognition. Don Juan Carlos, King of Spain awarded Komaiko with the Lazo de Dama (Ribbon of the Dame) in 1982. Through her continued efforts to promote and increase awareness of the traditions and culture of Spain, Dame Libby Komaiko has created not only a successful dance company but also an altogether excellent dance program at NEIU.
Elaborate dresses on stunning women; crisp shirts and pleated pants on refined men. Precision footwork accents the music along with claps and castanets. There is nothing sloppy or amiss in the ensemble’s performance. Every wave and step is deliberate and solid. The dresses flow and hands twirl. There are flowers in her hair and he spins her capably. The guitar and song resonate and the audience is under a spell from minute one. The performers have a story to tell. They are in love with each other; they are in love with mother Spain. Their movements and sound echo inside of your own being. In the dim lighting your eyes lock on the elegance onstage.
This dance isn’t rowdy or cute it is polished. It is an accented ballet-a ballet with a little spice if you will. It is he difference between a five star restaurant and an all out gala. The Ensemble Espanol works fervently rehearsing and studying to make sure every turn of the head or stretch of the arm is streamline. There is no feel of improvisation or abstract in their performances. And that is the goal. The Ensemble captures the tradition of excellence and the intense appreciation of culture and art of Spain. Pablo Picasso, Miguel de Cervantes, Paco Ibanez are all examples of the rich art that was brought to us by Spain.
From the royal to the gypsies the country has an extraordinary appreciation for the discipline and allure of art. Ensemble Espanol and Dame Libby Komaiko have brought that passion to us here in the United States. Komaiko also founded the All City Junior Ensemble Espanol for middle and high school students in Chicago and relative suburbs. For doing so she has been recognized by the City of Chicago. Libby and The Ensemble have been seen in dance festivals, on TV, concerts, and several other venues and for their continued works and benefit to the city of Chicago and its residents they should be a household name.
A passionate celebration of culture, a divine collection of works and an extremely talented assemblage of dancers is not what makes Ensemble Espanol the force that it is. These things are only a portion of the reason that the company enjoys the success and acclaim it has achieved. What I myself see are the hearts of toreros (toreadors) and the drive of the toro (bull.) Libby Komaiko had a vision and that vision grew because of her fever and passion to share the grace and magic of a culture. The Ensemble’s belief in their founder/director’s goal and their own determination created a triumph.
Flawless. The tap of heels, the snap of castanets, the clap of hands are all part of something bigger. A performance like this is best experienced live. Whether it is Flamenco or a folkloric ballet the Ensemble Espanol, musicians and dancers alike, has captivated millions. The solid strum of the guitar calls out for company and the dancers call back with a heartbeat. A breathtaking scene of precision and passion enraptures audiences of all ages, races and classes. Maintaining and presenting the culture, art and grace of Spain in the Midwest and having it not only be accepted but applauded is all that need be said for Libby Komaiko and her dancers. They are the sound of the castanets that echo and carry the tradition into the future.
Learn more at: ensembleespanol.org