Mummers return for Halloween weekend

The Green Mountain Mummers will be performing this year on the weekend before Halloween. On Saturday, Oct. 28, and Sunday, Oct. 29, the group will present its symbolic death-and-resurrection street theater rain or shine in seven locations in Windham County (see full schedule below).

The group of 10 (mostly) Windham County residents is probably the oldest continuing sword dance and mumming troupe in the United States. Founded in 1975, the group operates in the manner of the old English morris and sword dancers from which the dances were originally collected: they meet to practice and perform only once a year. The group's mummers play has been characterized as a "live political cartoon," often drawing on current events and providing social commentary through humor.

The Green Mountain Mummers sword dance was collected in northern England, but has developed its own Vermont character after almost 50 years in this area.

The six dancers are connected by holding long, inflexible metal faux swords, and without breaking the ring, they weave and turn intricate figures. Each figure ends with the making of what's called a "lock" of the swords in a progressively more complicated manner. The final lock of eight swords is the fateful one which traps the Innocent Bystander character in the middle and causes his mock death. After the antics of a questionable Doctor fail to revive the Victim, the Fool saves the day with a magic ritual.

The dances are accompanied by live music, often including fiddle, concertina, or accordion.

Visiting customs have long been an important part of the human existence. Caroling at mid-winter, morris dancing in the spring, and mumming are all related by this common thread of the need to reach out to one's neighbors at significant times of the year.

The audience for such performances is just as important as the performers and can participate in the ritual both during the mummers play and afterwards when the dancers pass the hat. It is the exchange that brings luck and the promise of spring's return.

The Green Mountain Mummers' full schedule is as follows:

• Saturday, Oct. 28: Samuel Elliot Apartments, Brattleboro, 11 a.m.; Pliny Park, Main Street, Brattleboro, 11:45 a.m.; Brattleboro Common, 1 p.m.; and Whetstone Inn, Marlboro, 2 p.m.

• Sunday, Oct. 29: Williamsville town center, 11 a.m.; Dummerston Center common, noon; The Gleanery, Main Street, Putney, 1 p.m.

For more information or directions to any of the performances, call 802-254-9019.

This The Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

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