Shishi odori meets Spiderman

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(Host) Commentator and former Rutland Mayor Jeff Wennberg has a Halloween tale about a unique meeting of East and West – Vermont style.

(Wennberg) If you’ve never attended the Rutland Halloween parade you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s one of those events that has become so big and carries so much tradition that after forty years, it helps to define the community. If the weather’s good, 15,000 people will line the downtown streets for two and a half hours while an amazing array of ghouls and superheroes, marching bands and mechanically animated floats drift by.

Rutland has another tradition her sister-city relationship with Ishidoriya, Japan. And this year, for the first time, these two traditions will merge. The relationship began in 1986 when mayors Kojiro Seki and Jack Daley signed the agreement linking the communities. Shortly after succeeding Mayor Daley in 1987, I had the honor of leading a delegation to Ishidoriya, sealing the deal, as it were. Since then, dozens of officials and business people and hundreds of students have visited their sister city and sampled another culture through the Rutland-Ishidoriya Student Exchange program.

I first saw the “deer dancers” during the Ishidoriyan welcome reception in ’87. The seven dancers, or Shishi Odori, are clothed in the most remarkable costumes of loose-fitting and colorfully printed fabric. Each dancer has a belt-mounted drum and carries a drumstick in each hand. But as is typical of Japanese folk art, the real focal point of the outfit is the mask an enormous stylized representation of a stag’s head with large wide eyes, long flowing hair and outstretched antlers. And to top it off, two twelve-foot long flattened poles, wrapped in braided white cloth, shoot skyward from each shoulder.

Watching the dance is like watching the Taiko Drummers perform Tai-Chi at 78 RPM blindfolded with giant poles sticking out of their backs. Just to make it interesting, the dancers periodically bow at the waist, and in unison slap the floor with the tips of the poles, making a snapping sound. Watching them drum, spin and slap in formation is a little like watching a dangerous intersection at rush hour; you just know that sooner or later two or more will become entangled. But they don’t.

So tonight at 6:30 ghouls and monsters, superheroes and villians will converge on downtown Rutland and that’s just the crowd! Then, as a special treat in Rutland’s most special parade will be the fabulous Shishi Ordori the Deer Dancers of Ishidoriya, Japan rhythmically drumming, chanting and dancing, in a performance that dates back over a millennium. It should be unforgettable.

This is Jeff Wennberg saying sayonara, and Happy Halloween.

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