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Published: March 29th 2011
It really deserves its own entry, doesn’t it? Ok, so it’s a more pricey venture, but truly like nothing else you’ll ever see.
We left Petrópolis to arrive in Rio around 5pm. From the bus station, we cabbed it to pick up our tickets. (They’re actually these cool press-pass looking things that we wore around our necks.) Then, we had a few hours to kill before showtime so we strolled along the main streets in Rio enroute to the Sambodromo. The previous night’s floats were being ushered down the main street in one direction, while many of the on deck floats began lining up in the other. It was cool because we got to see the floats really close up; you’re walking right next to them! The streets were full of people, singing, dancing, and selling various food and “crap-tastic” goods. We ate, drank, bought some crazy Carnaval wigs and headed for the stadium around 7pm.
The Sambodromo holds 90,000 people. Our tickets were for general admission in a particular section so we wanted to get there a little early to score a better view. The event started a little late, around 9:30pm. Let me describe how
this works: 12 of the best Samba Schools in Rio perform on the main nights at Carnaval, 6 on one night and 6 on another. Each school has numerous floats, a few samba babes, flag bearers and HUNDREDS of participants. The choreographed dancers are actually part of the school, and then there are tons of fillers; people who pay for a costume and just free dance along in their section of the parade. There is a chosen theme and a newly created song, costumes and floats for each school each year. The schools have 70-80 minutes to make it down the Sambodromo (700 m, shy of half a mile). So, that gives you an idea of the sheer size of the schools, floats, and event!
They’re scored on the following: props and floats; a percussion instrument ensemble; the introduction of the samba school and those who introduce the plot and salute the public; how the samba school is parading as a whole; theme of the samba school; the fluency of the samba school while parading, its cohesion, speed, and also the spontaneity, creativity, excitement and vibrancy of paraders; carnival costumes; the interplay between rhythm and singing while a samba school
parades; the master of ceremonies who dances around the flag carrier, drawing attention to her and the school’s flag (his interaction with her is an evaluation criteria); the female flag carrier; theme song (2 minutes in length repeated over the ENTIRE course of the parade, or about 40 times, so you’d better like your song!)
And so! I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking, but in short: the floats were huge and fabulous and many of them equipped with lights or smoke or some sort of motion; the costumes were amazingly elaborate; the percussion teams and singers were great; the dancers fantastic. The photos are random, taken from all 6 samba schools at different points along their routes.
Of course, there was rain for a while, but that didn’t seem to dampen many spirits. The parade continued and the feathers kept a’shakin! …and shakin’ and shakin’. Until, finally, at 6:30 the following morning, the last school had completed their run down the Sambodromo. Wow. It’s like nothing you’d see in the states. Thousands and thousands of people up and celebrating all night long. And really, within the city, it goes on for days like this. We,
as gringos, could only stand one day and retreated back to the hills of Petropolis to recover.
You may have heard, there was a fire in Rio and 3 of the schools had costumes damaged. Those schools still participated, but did not compete. The winner (announced several days later) was Beija Flor, who performed last on the night we attended. It was a controversial win, as many believed they were favored only because they chose to honor one Rio’s famous singers and not necessarily because they were the best.
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