CLC grad to bring Spanish dance flair back to old stomping grounds

The Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater is celebrating its 39th year with a performance at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the College of Lake County.

The dance company, which has been recognized by President Barack Obama and former Spanish King Juan Carlos for its cultural value, is made up of 40 dancers, musicians and singers, all based out of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.

The artists hail from many countries across the world and their music and dance performances display the traditions and the culture of Spain through classical, flamenco and folkloric dance numbers.

One of those performers is CLC alum Juan Castellon, who was born in El Salvador and emigrated to the U.S. in 1995.

He was living in Waukegan when he took his first dance class at CLC at 18 years old. It was there, more than 10 years ago, that he saw a performance from the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater.

Castellon said he left captivated by the show.

“Oh, my God, I wanted to be a part of that company so bad,” Castellon said.

His dance instructor at CLC was Valerie Alpert. She urged him to audition but he didn’t feel he was good enough to take that leap at the time.

It took him two years to get the confidence he needed, finally auditioning for the dance theater in 2005.

“I’m so gad he did,” said Jorge Perez, the theater’s assistant to the directors. “Juan is a true artist. He’s a natural who’s dedicated to his craft.”

Castellon started with a full scholarship/apprenticeship. Just a year later, in 2006, he became a company dancer.

When he started with the theater, Castellon knew many forms of dance but flamenco wasn’t one of them.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” he admitted.

In the Sept. 13 performance, Castellon is scheduled to be in almost every number during the two-hour show. He is set to dance in the first half’s closing number called “Mil Clavos (A Thousand Nails),” which Perez explained symbolizes the nails in the flamenco dancers’ shoes that help them make the tap-tap-tap sound.

“That piece is an homage to Dame Libby,” Perez said of the theater’s founder and artistic director, Dame Libby Komaiko.

Perez said the performance is one not to be missed, as a ticket to CLC’s event is more affordable than a plane ticket to Spain.

“It will be like taking a journey to España,” Perez said.

Castellon also is excited to return to CLC, his old stomping ground. He added that he’s also “super nervous” about his triumphant return.

“I feel honored and I’m going to do my best but I feel like at CLC I should be more than good,” Castellon said.

The performance will be held in the Mainstage Theatre of the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts on the Grayslake campus, 19351 W. Washington St.

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