Dame Libby Komaiko, founder and artistic director of Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theatre

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dame Libby Komaiko, founder of the internationally acclaimed Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, has been selected as Northeastern Illinois University’s 2015 Distinguished Alumna and will be honored during the Dec. 13 Commencement ceremony at UIC Pavilion.

The honor comes as Ensemble Español celebrates its 40th year in residence at Northeastern.

Dedicated to the presentation, preservation and promotion of the classical, folkloric, flamenco and contemporary dance and music traditions of Spain, Ensemble Español has established itself as an international player in the dance community as well as a valuable asset to the University through its Department of Music and Dance classes, community outreach efforts, social activism and promotion of academic achievement at all ages. The Ensemble now boasts 17 professional dancers (four full-time, two part-time), an 18-member youth company, three NEIU Foundation scholarships endowed by Professor Emeritus Bernard Brommel and a program endowment, also through the Foundation.

Komaiko (B.A. ’78 University Without Walls) founded Ensemble Español in 1975 in residence at Northeastern and developed it into the premier Spanish dance and music center in the United States after receiving a scholarship in 1968 where she performed, studied and trained with legendary Spanish artist Jose Greco. When the Ensemble started with seven Northeastern students, Komaiko had just returned from a monthlong study at the Boston Conservatory of Music with legendary Spanish artists Nana Lorca, former artistic director of the National Ballet of Spain, and Manolo Vargas that was funded by Northeastern and the Union of Puerto Rican Students. The dances were presented at Northeastern in 1975. Then in March of 1976 a full concert was presented at Northeastern with the newly founded Ensemble Español. Her list of accomplishments since then is impressive.

In 1983, Komaiko was awarded the Ribbon of the Dame, or the Lazo de Dama de Isabel la Católica by Juan Carlos I, King of Spain. This extraordinary honor made Komaiko the first American artist to receive the honor, and she remains among only three choreographers to hold the title.

She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Ruth Page Award in 2003, the International Latino Cultural Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and she received Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Outstanding Partnership Award in 2008.

Komaiko performed with the company of Lola Montes, and subsequently worked in musical theater, opera, television, film and orchestra, including guest performances with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, repeated performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony, and many others. She studied in Spain and the United States with such master dancers as Maria Alba, Nana Lorca, Edo, Manolo Vargas, Paul Haakon, Maria Magdalena, Pedro Azorin, Ciro, Pacita Tomas, and Roberto Lorca, with whom she partnered for several years.

Komaiko’s other contributions include the choreography of half of the company’s 125 original works, including its major flamenco ballets and dramas, folkloric suites and classical pieces. She has collaborated with such individuals as Juan Mata and Ana Gonzales, founders of the National Ballet of Spain; William Carter, Manolete, Paco Alonso and Juanjo Linares.

In recent years, Komaiko produced the documentary, Ensemble Español: The First 20 Years 1976-1996, as well as “Dama Libby and Friends,” an audio CD that benefits Ensemble Español’s scholarship, heritage and endowment funds. She became professor emerita of Northeastern’s Department of Music and Dance in 2011.

Photo by Jack Mitchell for Dance Magazine