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Original Music and Dance Inspired by the Stories of Latino Chicago

Saturday, August 12, 2023
Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center

Stories From the West Side is a community concert event created and performed by James Sanders and Conjunto and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre and presented by Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center.  The 2023 performance marks the second consecutive year that members of Conjunto and Cerqua River conducted workshop listening sessions where community members told us about life in Latino Chicago, and we responded with improvised music and dance that formed the basis of this concert.

Five new compositions written by James Sanders and Kevin O'Connell will be performed by Conjunto and two of them will be joined by new dances created by Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre choreographers Katlin Bourgeois and Shannon Alvis. Additionally, we are bringing back two audience favorites from 2022.

La Casita de Don Pedro composed by Kevin O’Connell
Omar Torres-Kortright’s story of arriving in Chicago from Puerto Rico at age 23 and finding both the Puerto Rican community and musical inspiration on Paseo Boricua at La Casita de Don Pedro. He learned how to play bomba there and began to meet many of Chicago's hard-working and dedicated Latin musicians, which led him on a journey of self-discovery and a better understanding his life’s purpose.

Karla’s Story composed by James Sanders / Tether choreographed by Katlin Bourgeois
Karla’s story is lovingly told by Brenda Torres-Figueroa, a Puerto Rico born educator in Chicago. Karla was one of her students, and though Mexican, she loved bachata and Puerto Rican food. Karla's painting of a coqui, a beloved symbol of Boricua culture, sits near Division & Rockwell. Tragically, Karla passed away in 2013 while still a teenager. Choreographer's note: The sacred bond of teacher and student. Knowledge that's only passed down through mentorship. Being tethered to another, needing them and them needing you.

Trial by Fire composed by Kevin O’Connell
Musician Jose Porcayo told of growing up Mexican-American in Wicker Park and discovering Afro-Latin music at Segundo Ruiz Belvis, leading to his meeting Puerto Rican bandleader Angel Melendez at the age of 14 and setting his musical direction and career as one of Chicago's most in-demand Latin bassists.

Andres-Carlos composed by James Sanders and Kevin O’Connell| The Sea choreographed by Shannon Alvis
Andres-Carlos arrived in Michigan with his parents from Mexico at a very young age, and moved to Chicago as a teen. He discovered Puerto Rican culture and music through SRBCC’s After School Matters programs and is now studying film and composing at DePaul University. Choreographer's note: Tumbling through its dynamic waters, The Sea is a metaphor for the currents of infinite possibility that one must navigate in this journey of life... a journey from a past and toward a future, and with a most intimate internal compass as a guide.

Derrick From the South Side composed by James Sanders
The child of Polish immigrants, Derrick felt neither fully Polish, nor American. His passion for music led to an appreciation of many cultures, and our workshop inspired him to come to the West Side to learn more about Latino Chicago's culture and music.

Ever After composed by James Sanders | From Here, To Home choreographed by Katlin Bourgeois (2022)
Based on the story of Carmen Flores about a longtime Humboldt Park resident that could no longer afford the rent, was living out of his car, and froze to death one night. Choreographer's note: This piece is about searching for home and how much work it takes to keep our most vulnerable within the folds of society. The piece is dedicated to Carmen Flores, Levan Hill and all others who have fallen victim to gentrification and displacement. Inspired by Chicago’s rich culture of the Humboldt Park & Hermosa neighborhoods & how dance has been interwoven in the fabric of the community for decades. “As long as we are here, there must be hope for a better future, and for finding beauty even inside of struggle if you have to."

Amalgamation composed by Kevin O’Connell (2022)
Based on the powerful testimony of DJ Lugo Rosado who found music to be a safe space for himself and many of the teens in the 1970s in Chicago… all kinds of music and many types of people.  

James Sanders and Conjunto


James Sanders, Violin & Leader
Kevin O’Connell, Piano
Luis Rosario, Drums
Jean-Christophe Leroy, Conga
José Porcayo, Bass
Steve Eisen, Saxophone and Flute

Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre


Wilfredo Rivera, Artistic Director & CEO


Catie Armbrecht

Delphine Chang

Laren Chang

Bennett Cullen

Sydney Jones

Brennen Renteria

Bruno Salgado

Michelle Skiba



James Sanders would like to thank SRBCC Executive Director Omar Torres-Kortright, whose enthusiasm and support for this project made its second year possible.  We also thank the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Neighborhood Access Program for their financial support, as well as our community partner San Lucas United Church of Christ.

To learn more about Stories From the West Side 2022, click here.

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Photo by Herminio Rodriguez

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