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Shen Wei in Syracuse: Olympic choreographer's residency will be a template

The old Cathedral School sits tucked opposite the Civic Center downtown, south of Columbus Circle. Its classroom desks are long gone, but it's far from vacant. Syracuse Opera rehearses there. This school year Parents Promoting Dance has used is rooms for classes. And, for three weeks recently, Cathedral School's large open third floor with its low stage was the main rehearsal space for the Syracuse residency of New York City-based modern dance company, Shen Wei Dance Arts.

Shen Wei, 41, is the son of opera professionals from rural Hunan, China. He trained from age 9 in opera performance and you can see traces of that in some of his choreography. But he didn't start dancing until he was 20. A founding member of China's first modern dance company in 1991, he came to the US in the mid-90s and in 2000 founded Shen Wei Dance Arts (SWDA). To begin with, he had six dancers, among them West Genesee High School alum Sara Procopio. To choreograph the acclaimed opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which he also performed, Shen Wei had 16,000 dancers.

On a terrifically windy late afternoon two weeks ago, PPD's Donna Bradford was on hand as Carole Brzozowski swept open the front door for the latest assorted visitors to climb the long stairs and watch Shen Wei's thirteen dancers - five women and seven men -- rehearse.

Bradford, a teacher's aide at Seymour School whose efforts began so her own daughter could dance, beamed as she said, "We were really happy we could let them have our new dance floor for this."

PPD is now developing a more permanent space on the East Side along with Biboti Ouikahilo's Wacheva Cultural Arts. But for Shen Wei's residency, they brought their dance floor back to Cathedral School in pieces and hauled it up the stairs themselves.

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