This month, Massachusetts' Barrington Stage Company premieres A Crossing, a tale of migrants coming over the southern U.S. border. It's being billed as a dance musical, which, for Joshua Bergasse, who co-conceived, directed and choreographed the work, feels right. "It's a traditional musical in that we have songs, but we're telling so much of the story through movement," says the Emmy-winning choreographer. Bergasse created the choreography in collaboration with Alberto Lopez Herrera, the production's story consultant and artistic director of Calpulli Mexican Dance Company, a New York City collective dedicated to telling stories that capture and celebrate the Mexican-American spirit.
How did the project come about?
Joshua Bergasse: Many years ago, I had this idea to do something about immigrants—both my parents are immigrants. I met with our book writer, Mark St. Germain, and we decided to tell the story of migration from Mexico and South America to the U.S. I realized we couldn't do this without including people who understand this better. I found Calpulli Mexican Dance Company. Alberto and his colleagues were very gracious to meet with me and hear me out. I was immediately drawn to the work that they did—not only artistically, but also their community outreach.
Alberto, have you ever worked on a project like this before?
Alberto Lopez Herrera: Actually, no. We work with short stories: Mexican weddings, Día de Muertos and other traditional storylines in Mexico. But I think a story about immigration is universal. It's not just about Mexican people.
How does a collaboration like this work, in practice?
JB: It's like we're dating. The first stage was getting to know each other and each other's work. And then there was the stage of deciding how we can use it to tell the story. I think the next stage will be the most exciting: How do we integrate our styles together? If I do something and he does something, how do we put that together and create something brand-new that also defines these characters and moves the plot forward?
ALH: Working with Josh is very easy. He organizes everything, and he'll ask me, "What do you think about this?"
What's most exciting about this project?
JB: I'm learning so much about Mexican culture and the hardship of immigrants all over the world. It's devastating, but for me, it's enlightening.
What's most challenging?
JB: That we tell these stories correctly and with respect, which means doing as much thought and research and listening as I possibly can and accepting the ideas that everybody brings to the table.
ALH: The challenging thing is getting the true story line of people who cross the border—why they're moving to another country. It's hard for people who go through that experience to be open and say, "This is my story. I'm crossing because of this." They don't want to—they'll say, "I prefer not to talk about that." So the challenging thing is being there and telling them: "Listen. Trust in me. We want to know how it feels to cross the border."