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Dame Libby Komaiko, founder of Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance, dies at 69

Dame Libby Komaiko championed Spanish dance styles for more than forty years through her beloved Ensemble Espanol. | Dean Paul Photo

Dame Libby Komaiko championed Spanish dance styles for more than forty years through her beloved Ensemble Espanol. | Dean Paul Photo

Dame Libby Komaiko, the powerhouse dancer, choreographer and educator and the founding artistic director of Chicago’s acclaimed Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater has died. She was 69.

Komaiko died last Saturday from complications of pneumonia, according to reports.

Ensemble Espanol became the dance theater-in-residence at Northeastern Illinois University starting in 1975. On the company’s Facebook page, a statement from the university read: “On behalf of the Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater and Northeastern Illinois University we offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends, students, colleagues, and aficionados of Dame Libby Komaiko on her passing. Her love, dedication, and passion for the art form of Spanish dance, music, and education will forever be treasured in our hearts and memories.”

Dame Libby Komaiko | Jack Mitchell Photo

Dame Libby Komaiko | Jack Mitchell Photo

Komaiko, who championed dance in all its various styles for more than 50 years, was born in Evanston. She studied dance throughout her life, beginning at Chicago Musical College at Roosevelt University. This was followed by study with the legendary Gus Giordano and later the iconic Jose Greco and his Spanish Dance Company. In 1975 she founded a five-member troupe called Ensemble Espanol, and over the course of the next four decades it evolved into a full-out, world-class dance theater boasting more than 40 dancers, musicians and singers, and a repertoire of more than 130 works showcasing flamenco, folkloric and classical Spanish dance.

In a statement Thursday, Carmela Greco wrote: “Dame Libby left this world quietly, but her legacy of 43 years of teaching and disseminating our Spanish dance and culture remains. She changed my life and made dreams, including the chance to perform on stage, a reality for many people. From the moment I saw our Dame Libby Komaiko, I knew our lives would be entwined forever in the same way that hers was with my father, Jose Greco. Dame Libby Komaiko has left us, but she will continue inside our hearts.”

Dame Libby Komaiko began her study of dance when she was a young girl, later studying with Gus Giordano and Jose Greco. | Don Bulucos Photo

Dame Libby Komaiko began her study of dance when she was a young girl, later studying with Gus Giordano and Jose Greco. | Don Bulucos Photo

In 1983, Komaiko was awarded the prestigious “Lazo de Dama de Isabel la Catolica,” or “Ribbon of the Dame”  honor from Spain’s royal court. Local honors included the Ruth Page Award in 2003 and the International Latino Cultural Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.  In 2016, NEIU honored her with its distinguished alumni award.

Among Komaiko’s greatest and most unforgettable works was her take on “Bolero,” which the Sun-Times called “her masterwork” and “one of the most striking interpretations of the familiar Ravel score you will ever see.”

Plans for a public memorial service at NEIU will be announced at a later date.

 

Ensemble Espanol dancer Monica Saucedo in Dame Libby Komaiko’s “Bolero” at the Auditorium Theatre. | Dean Paul Photo

Ensemble Espanol dancer Monica Saucedo in Dame Libby Komaiko’s “Bolero” at the Auditorium Theatre. | Dean Paul Photo