The Ensemble Espanol

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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.

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Pass the Dance: Reaching Out and Giving Back

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By Rebecca Nieves
Edited by Angie Rentmeester

The choreographer leans forward, as if picking a flower. He executes a pirouette and offers the token to his reflection. Walking in a circle, the man considers his next move and a second later he is sliding on his knees, twisting back up and stepping foot over foot to the right. The choreographer is creating a dialogue, a private conversation. Sweat on his brow, he continues to move, expressing thoughts and feelings without words. This will go on for some time, the choreographer’s real body and mirrored self speaking in the language of dance.

Movement, the dialect of the body, is an ages old tradition of expressing oneself. History tells us that we danced in celebration, in rituals, in battle sometimes. We have always danced. Now, of course, all of these reasons remain though we have expanded. We are entertainers, professionals, competitors, artists. We have taken that thing inside of us that makes us tap our toe or shimmy our hips when we hear music and made it a grand spectacle. Not every one of us is that choreographer in the studio, however. That is where community outreach helps us inspire people and awaken them to the importance of this language.

Two major Chicago institutions, The Columbia College Dance Center and Hubbard Street Dance, make great efforts to step into our communities and engage them in dance. Through their efforts they hope to see a greater appreciation for the value of movement and an improvement in the health of our citizens (physical and mental.) I spent two years as a mentor for Redmoon Theater’s Drama girls. We used dance, drama, art, and music to broaden the girls’ views and help them appreciate the value of self expression. The transformation of these children and mentors alike was priceless. It is as if their eyes were only just then opened to a world of beauty with unlimited possibilities. They no longer had to kick and scream and hold in their emotions, they had a forum in which they could release through song and dance and drama, positivity that came naturally. This outreach is necessary.

The Dance Center of Columbia College’s Community Outreach and Education department offers several programs to the people of Chicago. Alycia Scott is the manager of the department. I was able to speak with her briefly and gather that the Dance Center was very much involved in not only bringing dance into the communities of our city, but also opening its doors and inviting the people in. Through Dance Masters, Family Dance and Community Outreach Events: Public Programs, The Dance Center is reaching countless minds and bodies and gifting them with an opportunity to experience contemporary dance firsthand.

Dance Masters is a program that takes dancers at an intermediate or higher level of experience and allows them the opportunity to meet other artists. Through these classes, which are open to the public, individuals are able to communicate with Columbia’s featured choreographers. What an incredible way to network and pursue the art of dance!

The needs of family quality time are addressed through interactive movement workshops. These are free and usually held on Saturdays. Families engage in dance exercises on stage, feeling what it is like to speak through movement front and center. They are then presented with a piece of a current company’s performance. The family spends an afternoon feeling the work and spirit that goes into creating a piece and becomes a part of a dancer’s story.

The public programs bring the Dance Center out into Chicago’s neighborhoods. Schools, parks, community centers and other such places play host to panels and forums. Dancers and directors from Columbia’s dance center share with the public the power of their work through discussion and interactive workshops. The faces of children often light up when allowed to dance and be “silly”but more so when they see that voice within them solidified into precise movement by a professional.

Being able to visit the Dance Center as an artist, a family, or just an individual with a hobby is without question a tremendous benefit. However, what is done by bringing dance into neighborhoods is, in my opinion, the greatest accomplishment. By doing this, they are reminding us of our roots-our most basic language and publicizing the need for our continued support of dance. One need not be a dancer to appreciate this form and want to keep it alive and thriving. Experiencing the grace of the professional dancer will last a lifetime with the children they are able to touch.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago offers a more educational approach. In their outreach they go directly to the schools of Chicago. They work in classrooms teaching children and offer after school programs. Chicago schools, about 25 at this time, go through an application process with the company to be a part of this program. Teachers are involved as well, taking classes on bringing dance into their classrooms themselves. With help from the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations, HSDC is able to share with our communities what the choreographer does with the mirror. Body by body stories are told and dance carries on a strong conversation with the world.

The choreographer leaps and lands, his body crouched, head down. He throws arms and head back and hears the applause. Only this time he is surrounded by the company that will follow the steps and share his message. They will be witnessed by an audience. The audience will tell their friends how they were moved. And communities will continue to dance and tell stories and speak with their bodies.

For more information on the Dance Center you may visit or contact Alycia Scott at

Hubbard Street Dance at
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Education & Community Programs
1147 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60607
t: 312-850-9744
f: 312-455-8240

National Endowment for the Arts at

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