Dame Libby Komaiko, one of the most important female figures in Spanish dance in the United States passed away on February 2, 2019. A trailblazer for Spanish and Flamenco dance in the United States, she leaves behind a strong and flourishing legacy which includes the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, The Ensemble Español Center for Spanish Dance and Music, the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Youth Company, the Northeastern Illinois University Spanish Dance Program and the annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival.
An admirable, visionary leader, Komaiko successfully trained and maintained the same administrative and artistic personnel for decades, bringing an uncommon level of stability and consistency to a genre of dance dominated by pick-up companies. She leaves the company with more than 100 works of choreography.
Komaiko was often mistaken for Spanish but was actually Jewish of Lithuanian and Russian descent. She was born in Chicago in 1949 and grew up in Evanston. Her parents were both musicians exposing Komaiko to music since infancy. Inspired by a live performance of the Nutcracker, Komaiko studied classical ballet and character dance as a young child and as a teen studied jazz, modern and musical theater.
At 18, Komaiko went to watch auditions for Jose Greco's Dance Company where she was unexpectedly asked to audition by Greco. Komaiko said to Greco, "I'm not a Spanish dancer," in which he replied, "Just try." Greco offered Komaiko a spot in the company, which were her first steps in a life-long career in Spanish dance.
In 1972, Komaiko was invited to teach as an artist-in-residence at Northeastern Illinois University. Shortly thereafter she began teaching full-time and developed the Spanish Dance Program there. In 1976 she incorporated Ensemble Español and the company received in-residence status at the university.
In 1983 she was granted the Lazo de Dama de la Orden de Isabel la Catolica (the Ribbon of the Dame) from the King of Spain, His Majesty Don Juan Carlos I. Komaiko was the first American artist to be awarded the distinction. In 1986 she was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine and was also featured in DanceTeacher magazine in 2001. In 2003 she received the coveted Ruth Page Award and in 2004 received the prestigious International Latino Cultural Center Lifetime Achievement Award. President Barack Obama congratulated Komaiko's efforts in 2011 for the company's work globally.
Komaiko successfully overcame the many challenges and barriers for women in Spanish dance. A culture of sexism still today exists for female artists in Spain, particularly in leadership roles, making Komaiko's international success notable. As well, American-born artists struggle in the United States to gain the same level of respect that Spanish-born artists automatically receive from American audiences. Komaiko overcame these challenges with grace and persistence while enduring an autoimmune condition which she was diagnosed with in 1994.
Komaiko is survived by her brothers Daniel Komaiko and William Komaiko, her sister Leah Komaiko, her birth daughter Jen Miller and birth granddaughter Amanda Miller.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principals Rachel Foster and Jonathan Porretta took their final curtain call on June 9, 2019. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
We all know dance careers are temporary. But this season, it feels like we're saying goodbye to more stars than usual.
Many have turned to social media to share their last curtain calls, thoughts on what it feels like to say farewell to performing, and insights into the ways that dancing has made them who they are. After years of dedicating your life to the studio and stage, the decision to stop dancing is always an emotional one. Each dancer handles it in their own way—whether that means cheekily admitting to having an existential crisis, or simply leaving with no regrets about what you did for love.
We will miss these dancers' performances, but can't wait to see what awaits each in their next chapters.
A previous lab cycle. Photo by Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade, Courtesy RRR Creative
Choreographic incubator Broadway Dance Lab has recently been rechristened Dance Lab New York. "I found the nomenclature of 'Broadway' was actually a type of glass ceiling to the organization," says choreographer Josh Prince, who founded the nonprofit in 2012.