Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater’s main mission is to present and preserve the music and dance traditions of Spain — but the Chicago-based company is made up of dancers whose cultural backgrounds span the globe. Under the artistic leadership of Irma Suárez Ruíz (who started her career as one of the company’s original apprentice dancers in 1979) and executive director Jorge Perez (who joined the company in 1984), Ensemble Español continues to deepen its commitment to developing young artists and establishing connections to their cultural roots.
Ensemble Español, which has been the resident dance company at Northeastern Illinois University for over 40 years, was founded in 1975 by Dame Libby Komaiko. Throughout its history, the company has awarded over 2,600 scholarships, trained more than 160 young dancers, and led over 90 apprentice dancers to become professional artists. Currently, the company reaches almost 32,000 students each year with over 128 arts education programs.
Following its 40th anniversary celebration in 2016, the company continues to strengthen its commitment to the cultural traditions of the past while also looking towards its next 40 years — and it will do so with the program “Raised in Chicago, Ready for the World,” spearheaded by a grant from the Caerus Foundation. All of the current company dancers began on scholarships provided by organizations like the Chicago Community Trust and the Caerus Foundation, and the “Raised in Chicago, Ready for the World” campaign will allow Ensemble Español to give similar life-altering opportunities to new talent. With this grant, Ensemble Español will be able to hire more full-time dancers, reach a wider audience, and create new works that honor the company’s mission.
On October 6, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater will present one of these new works at the Auditorium Theatre. The piece, called Defalla, Fuera de la Caja (Defalla, Out of the Box), honors the company’s — and the Auditorium Theatre’s — connection to the past while also celebrating the present. The work is set to the music of La Vida Breve by Manuel de Falla, which was the score for the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat. The original music and ballet were commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Ballet Russes, and his company performed the ballet on the Auditorium Theatre’s stage all the way back in 1934. Defalla choreographer Angel Rojas (of the Nuevo Ballet Madrid) was inspired by the “Raised in Chicago, Ready for the World” campaign, unveiling the identity of each dancer instead of solely focusing on the traditions of Spanish music and dance. “I wished to explore the belief that there are times when the artist and the audience must meet on equal terms, share the same space, and approach each other with less formality,” Rojas says.
“Our company represents a mosaic of world cultures,” says Perez. “We are in the advantageous position of having a wealth of established works in our repertoire to draw from, and a bounty of sources from within our company and the global dance community to draw on for new works and programs for generations to come.”