In “A Crossing,” the new dance musical premiering at Barrington Stage in the Berkshires, a group of desperate immigrants confront hazardous terrains, punishing weather, threatening vigilantes — and their own mixed feelings of hope, loss and doubt — as they seek safety and a better life across the U.S.-Mexican border.
Directed with a graceful naturalism by Joshua Bergasse and co-choreographed with Alberto Lopez with energy, heart and authenticity, it’s a journey whose stories and characters are told entirely in movement and song, both original and traditional, by a 12-member cast of Latinx singers and dancers.
Backed by six musicians, it’s a lilting blend of new songs by Zoe Sarnak mixed with Mexican folk songs, beautifully sung by the charismatic duo of Andres Quintero and Monica Tulia Ramirez, who play the ancestral spirits of the Sun and the Moon overseeing the treacherous trek (and looking stunning in Alejo Vietti’s costumes). Beowulf Boritt has created an abstract, evocative set to define the many perilous locations of story, including cliffs, a raging river and a barn hideout.
But the creative team — which includes the Calpulli Mexican Dance Company — needs to give this long-in-development production more specificity of character and story to go beyond some of the tropes and archetypes, and to present more richly defined individuals, more shadings of story and some variety of tone.
Playwright Mark St. Germain creates a story structure that follows a group of strangers in northern Mexico starting on their escape from impossible living conditions. But for some of these characters, little time is given to the motivations for their flight aside from a lyrical line or two, when the show would benefit from presenting the stakes in clearer and more dramatic ways.
The principal migrants are teenager Giselle (Ashley Pérez Flanagan, terrific), whose activist parents are “disappeared” by the drug cartel but who wants to stay and fight rather than flee. But grandfather Arturo (Carlos L. Encinias) sees going across the border as their only way to survive. There’s also Martin (Justin Gregory Lopez), a father seeking to be reunited with his young son in the U.S. — he was deported years before by ICE — and Karina (Aline Mayagoitia), a young pregnant woman leaving an abusive relationship.
Also getting memorable stage moments are the Aztec spirit of Quetzalcoatl (Caleb Marshall-Villarreal, in a dynamic dance one-off) and the “Coyote” (Omar Nieves, a powerful presence and dancer), who is an expert at transporting refugees for a fee.
But his character and the remainder of the ensemble are depicted in a generic —or worse, anonymous — way. Further development and detail could deepen and strengthen the story, theme and impact of the show.
Nonetheless “A Crossing,” with its strong score (“The Invisible Line,” “Never Far Away” and “Tomorrow Comes” are especially potent) and expressive staging, has potential. This would be especially true if its creators find more stirring moments such as the heart-dropping one toward the end when an immigrant experience is revealed in a different light.
More of that kind of theatricality — when story, song and staging come together in fresh ways — might make this journey worth taking even further.