Step Raptis and Lisa Chow – Bringing Balance to a Community

Looking back over decades of dance, Step Raptis and Lisa Chow have helped enlighten and balance communities with colorful stories from the past. The husband and wife met in 1988 in a dance class Step was playing for. At that point, Lisa had been with Desert Dance Theatre for several years and was in transition to become the Artistic Director. Sometime later, Step would join as the Music Director, composing music for Lisa’s choreography and other company pieces.

When they met, Step had already established the Adzido West African Drum and Dance Ensemble with master drummer, Uncle C. K. Ganyo.Within a year, Step and Lisa created Crossroads Performance Group, which was an interdisciplinary music and dance collaboration. Through the Arizona Commission on the Arts they did Artists in Residency programs in schools around the state. Later, Step would also join the Commission’s roster with his show, Step’s Junk Funk, where everyday objects are used to create exciting and engaging rhythms.

One day, a fellow dancer mentioned she had seen the movie about Harriet Tubman, A Woman Called Moses. She suggested that Desert Dance Theatre do a show about the historical Tubman. With the seed planted, it took about a year of research and script creation to bring the idea to fruition.

Step joined in the position of musical director. Growing up in a musical family with a father who had conducted Greek Orthodox Church Choirs, Step utilized his knowledge of choral music to conduct the choral ensemble.

The cast of Sister Moses began with a small group of dancers and kept growing every year. The educational and community residencies associated with the production allowed them to work with students from elementary and high school, as well as community members who were included as part of the dance cast, choral singers, or appearing in walk- on parts in various scenes. Their largest cast ever was about sixty performers.

The show was commissioned and performed at the Herberger Theater Center. The following year it was performed to a sold out house at ASU Gammage. Additional funding allowed the dance company to invite and bus-in school children from different parts of metropolitan Phoenix to experience the show. As a well-recognized work since 1993, Desert Dance Theatre’s honorable and historical production of Sister Moses: The Story of Harriet Tubman was performed for twenty-eight consecutive years until the pandemic interrupted its run.

In 2000, ASU Public Events commissioned a new piece from Chinese American choreographer H.T. Chen of H.T. Chen & Dancers from New York.The piece was called Bian Dan (the Chinese word for “bamboo pole” used to carry water on the shoulders). Lisa served as Community Rehearsal Assistant for the Arizona community cast whenever the company was out of town at residencies. This began a long relationship with H.T. Chen & Dancers.

Later, Lisa saw an article where H.T. was working on a project called South of Gold Mountain. H.T. and his wife, Dian Dong had gone through the southern United States interviewing Chinese American Citizens and they were getting ready to put together their show, which depicted the generation gap between the elders and the new generation.

Being from Mississippi, Lisa contacted them offering to act as a consultant. However, soon Lisa was headed to New York to The Theater of Chen Dance Center to dance in the show. During her first rehearsal they showed Lisa some slides from the South which would be incorporated into the show. There were photos including seniors, families and Chinese grocery store owners. Lisa was surprised to look up and see her grandfather’s grocery store as part of the projections.

The project was well received and included a touching scene with the young children dancing a Chinese handkerchief dance with the seniors. Eventually, Lisa was able to perform South of Gold Mountain in her home state of Mississippi.

Throughout their careers, Step and Lisa have each been a part of two creative streams that merge into a river and continue to flow, making a sea of creativity.

Step commented, “We work off of each other.We bonded with the arts and we balance each other out. We are a nice yin and yang pair.”

Step Raptis & Lisa Chow – Bringing Balance to a Community

ARTSource America – Volume 8

Author: ARTSource

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