Celebrating the dances of Spain
Dame Libby Komaiko
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd.
7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 22-23; 3 p.m. Sunday, June 24
Tickets are $26-$46; free parking
(847) 673-6300 or visit www.northshorecenter.org
Updated: June 20, 2012 3:35PM
How did Libby Komaiko, a nice Jewish girl from Evanston, found her own internationally acclaimed Spanish dance company?
Long story, so we’ll skip for now to the punchline: Komaiko’s 40-member Ensemble Espanol will conclude its 36th annual International American Spanish Dance & Music Festival with performances of “Flamenco Passion” on June 22-24 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.
This celebration of Spanish dance, music and culture will feature four world premieres and two U.S. premieres performed by the Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater’s company as well as guest dancers and choreographers from Spain.
Artists will include Carmela Greco, daughter of the legendary José Greco, who popularized Spanish dance in the United States, Paloma Gómez, former principal with the National Ballet of Spain and Founder and Artistic Director of Compañia de Danza Paloma Gomez; and Jose Barrios, principal dancer of the Maria Pages Company.
Among the guest singers and musicians also scheduled to perform are Flamenco singer Manuel Palacin, Flamenco guitarist Scott Mateo Davis, and pianist Juan Antonio Mata, each from Madrid, Flamenco singer and guitarist Paco Fonta from Miami, and Venezuelan-born percussionist Javier Saume Mazzei.
The world premiere pieces include a three-part suite, “La Boda de Luis Alonso-Boleras,” created by Paloma Gomez, “Sombras y Cenizas,” choreographed and danced by Greco and Gomez, “La Rosa Negra,” a solo performance by Gomez dedicated to her husband, Luis, and “Prefacio,” featuring Claudia Pizarro and Jose Torres, Ensemble Espanol principal dancers.
In addition to the U.S. premieres, the program will also include eight pieces representing Ensemble Espanol’s repertoire of 125-works.
Komaiko is the artistic director of Ensemble Espanol, the premiere Spanish dance center and company to be in residence at a U.S. university, Northeasterm Illinois University. In 1983, she became the first American to receive the Lazo de Dama de la Orden de Isabel la Catolica, the highest honor bestowed on foreign nationals by King of Spain Juan Carlos I. Her most recent honor was to be made professor emeritus at Northeastern.
Her extraordinary journey started simply and magically enough with a performance of “The Nutcracker” by American ballerina and choreographer Ruth Page that Komaiko saw when she was five years old. She was enraptured. “My mother said I never sat down,” she said. “We were in the first row of the balcony and I stood with my chin resting on the rail.”
But Komaiko, 63, reckons her passion for music and dance began earlier. Her parents were musicians, she said: “When I was in my mother’s womb, she was giving concerts.”
The family initially lived in Chicago, where Komaiko began her dance training with Elisa Stigler, whose studio was in the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt Univesity next door to her father’s studio in the Fine Arts Building. She was a practioner of the Spanish style of dance, which was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, Komaiko said.
Komaiko also recalled seeing taking the opportunity to see all the dance companies that passed through the city. When it came time for her brother to enter high school, the family moved to Evanston. “It was wonderful,” she said. “I loved the diversity.”
Following high school, Komaiko had her sights set on Broadway, but she was discovered by Jose Greco, whose company was performing in Chicago and who was auditioning American dancers to tour with his company. Komaiko had gone to the auditions just to watch, but he encouraged her to try out, and she won one of the company scholarships.
At the same time, she received a callback for a touring company of the musical “Man of La Mancha.” She chose to dance with Greco, and immersed herself in Spanish culture.
In the early 1970s, Komaiko collaborated with her mother, Dorothy, on a one-hour dance/music/lecture program, which they performed at Northeastern Illinois University to an overflow crowd. “They never let me leave,” Komaiko laughed. The university asked her to be an artist-in residence. In 1976, Ensemble Espanol was born, and Komaiko’s dance card has been filled ever since.
“Flamenco Passion,” she said, reflects the historical journey of the company, while the new pieces in the program point toward its future. From the youth dancers to the post-doctoral performers, Komaiko said, “Age is unimportant. Life is the important thing in the dancing. When I was 20 I wanted to jump and twirl. However there is something for everyone to find their spirit in the deep songs or in the happiness of the dance.”