The rumors are true: Spain is in love with the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater.
Northeastern Illinois University’s resident dance company is celebrating its 40th year of bringing traditional Spanish dance to American and international stages. But it wasn’t until August that, for the very first time, the 40-member Ensemble packed up their costumes, shoes and fans and took their love and passion for their art to the stages of Spain.
Needless to say, it was love at first sight.
“The president of the last theatre we performed in, the Marquina Theater in Madrid, was just blown away and he said, ‘You’ve got to come back; you must come back,’” Ensemble Español Executive Director Jorge Pérez said.
The trip was one of the highlights as the Ensemble celebrated “40 years of passion” this year, packing the 2015-16 performance calendar with concerts, classes and residencies. The celebration ends with the grand finale performance on Sept. 29 at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
“How do we continue to top what we do?” Pérez said. “The Auditorium is a magnificent venue. They are celebrating their 126-year anniversary, the acoustics are amazing, and the company has been there about seven times. We are making our debut in their Made in Chicago Dance Series, a crème de la crème series featuring Chicago dance companies. We are excited to be their opening act for their 2016-2017 season.”
If you know Northeastern, then you know Ensemble Español. The company, founded in 1976 by Dame Libby Komaiko, is a mainstay, thrilling the University community, Chicago and cities on four continents with their flawless performances. They’ve performed throughout the United States, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico, and in the countries of Poland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, China and now Spain.
Ensemble Español garners rave reviews wherever they go, and Spain was no different.
“We got 12 national interviews and media coverage in Spain. One of them highlighted our city as the home of Barack Obama. Another said, ‘It took an American like Jorge Pérez to come here and make us realize the richness of our culture, and what we've got.’ That was really exciting,” said Pérez, who has been involved with the Ensemble since 1984.
Pérez knew it could have gone the other way.
“It could have been like, ‘Who are these Americans? What are they doing? Are they taking advantage of our art form?’” he said. “I'm glad they didn't see it that way.”
Pérez gave special credit to Luis Lorente of Ficcion Creative in Madrid for presenting the Ensemble to Spain along with guest artists Juan Mata and Ana Gonzalez, founding members of the National Ballet of Spain; Carmela Greco; Paloma Gomez; and Chrisitan Lozano.
Besides receiving enthusiastic invitations to return to Spain before the company had even left for home, Pérez found himself pressed to explain how the dance company became a vital part of Northeastern Illinois University.
“There’s a university, the Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, that is very interested in forming a partnership with us,” he said. “They were just amazed with the idea of an arts organization working with a university.”
It’s one thing to be warmly welcomed and received. It’s another to discover that you are also inspirational, influential and important in ways you never expected.
“You have your expectations to what a premiere tour to the country of Spain means … and then we were embraced and then some,” Pérez said. “They said, ‘We want to know how you've been doing what you've been doing,’ and that's fantastic!”
Pictured above: Ensemble Español performs in Spain. Photo by Maria Alperi.