The Ensemble Español is the premier Spanish dance company and center in the United States to have in-residence status at a university, making its home at Northeastern Illinois University.
The Ensemble Español consists of the professional dance company, touring nationally and internationally throughout the year, as well as the youth company.
The Ensemble Español provides arts education programming to students across Chicago, runs community outreach programs/workshops, offers college level dance courses at Northeastern Illinois University, and produces the annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival.
The company was founded in 1975 by Dame Libby Komaiko, American classical dancer and educator, with a mission to preserve, promote and present the flamenco, folkloric, classical, and contemporary dance and music traditions of Spain. After returning from a four-week study at the Boston Conservatory of Music with Spanish artists Nana Lorca and Jose Greco in 1976 (funded by Northeastern Illinois University and the Union of Puerto Rican Students), Komaiko formally launched the Ensemble Español with just seven students.
Komaiko fostered a family atmosphere throughout the years often creating choreographies for specific dancers while offering various organizational roles to others who didn't want to leave the family. Some of Komaiko's earliest dancers, Irma Suárez Ruiz, who began training with Komaiko in 1979, as well as Jorge Perez, who began training with Komaiko in 1985, are still with the company today. Ruiz and Perez, dance partners, still perform in Komaiko's signature piece “Bolero” (1993) even though Ruiz now serves as the Artistic Director while Pérez is the Executive and the Associate Artistic Director.
Today the company consists of over 40 dancers, singers, musicians and administrative staff. It presents over one hundred Spanish dance educational programs a year, reaching nearly 20,000 students in arts education programming. The Ensemble Español has trained over 95 professional dancers, taught over 7,800 academic Spanish dance class students at Northeastern Illinois University, and performed over 135 original full-length choreographies and over 4,000 concerts worldwide.
The Ensemble Español has collaborated with the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and its Stomping Grounds Festival, the Flamenco Festival produced by Instituto Cervantes, and the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University's "Made in Chicago" dance series. In association with the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts the Ensemble presents its annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival with guest artists from Spain and the U.S.
The Ensemble Español has toured locally, nationally and internationally, including in Mexico's Cervantino Festival, Australia, Puerto Rico, China, Costa Rica, Poland, and Spain. The Ensemble has performed at the Chicago Dancing, Stomping Gounds Festival and Dance for Life, at the Pritzker Pavillion Stage in Millennium Park and Auditorium Theatre. Most recently in September 2023 the Ensemble opened the premiere of the Chicago Latino Dance Festival presented by the International Latino Cultural Center at the Logan Reva Theater. The company has also performed at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Inside/Out Series in Berkshire, Massachusetts, Dance St. Louis Festival and at the Joyce Theater in New York for the American Platform Series and New York City Center Black Box Theater and Alvin Ailey Theater for the APAP NY International Conference.
The Ensemble Español has studied and collaborated with Spanish dancers and artists including Manolete, Juanjo Linares, Nana Lorca, Lola Montes, José Greco, Manuel Reyes, Paco Romero, Maria Alba, Maria Magdalena, Candela Soto, Edo, Paco Alonso, Roberto Lorca, Paloma Gomez, José Barrios, Carmela Greco, Ángel Rojas, Carlos Rodríguez, Nino de los Reyes, La Lupi, the National Ballet of Spain founding members, Juan Mata and Ana Gonzalez and more artists
In 1983, King Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, awarded Ensemble Español founder Dame Libby Komaiko, the honor of the Lazo de Dama (Ribbon of the Dame) de Isabel la Católica for spreading the cultural and artistic values of Spain throughout the U.S.
Other honors have included White House President Barack Obama sending Ensemble Español a letter recognizing the organization's work, as well as the creation of three endowed scholarships for Ensemble Español dancers to attend Northeastern Illinois University and one foundation endowment for the general operating programs of the organization.