There is a period in the life of all travel fans when all roads lead to Rio de Janeiro. The Samba carnival a festival of beauty and fiery temperament, the four days of colourful fireworks - is the jewel which attracts countless tourists from all over the world. During these few days, Rio resembles a huge bubbling cauldron in which passion and love ferment together like potent wine empowered by the rays of the southern sun…
Those who only have a vague idea about the Rio carnival, are probably
under the impression that the atmosphere during the Samba festival is utterly
chaotic and unrestrained. Such an assumption, however, is far removed from
the truth, for what might at a glance appear to be an erotic show,
is in fact a meticulously
planned and well-staged spectacle of more than a century-old tradition.
The Rio de Janeiro carnival today is one of the world's most remarkable and grand shows. The Samba festival starts on Saturday and ends on Tuesday, 40 days before Catholic Lent begins.
The carnival balls and festivities were brought to Brazil from Italy toward the end of the 19th century. The 1930s are considered the Golden Age of this truly national holiday. This was the period when impressive performances were staged in the Copacabana Palace and in the Municipal Theatre.
Since the eighties of the last century, the Samba parade takes place at the Sambadrome, the specially arranged venue in the city centre.
The television stations from all over Brazil and many countries of the world broadcast the festivity live.
To attend the Samba parade, one must buy a ticket, which costs approximately $1000. Perhaps for this reason, simultaneously with the parade of the Samba schools, free shows are also held in Rio de Janeiro. These street carnivals and processions present an equally fascinating show.
For performers, participation in the Samba parade is an enormous honour and not everyone can make it.
Representatives of fourteen of the best Samba schools take part in the carnival. Each school has from 3 to 5 thousand members. Usually, the parade goes on all night till dawn.
Together with the festival, the Samba marathon is a tough competition, as every year two Samba schools move from the advance group into the qualification group.
Their place is then taken by the two best groups selected from the lower-level groups.
The Samba schools do not represent educational institutions. They are, rather, associations bringing together its members on the basis of their residential areas, the themes of the carnival program and the style of the costumes. In the course of the year, the members of the association meet on a regular basis to rehearse and improve the elements of the dance.
Annually, these schools provide numerous jobs for the members of the association by commissioning 5000 costumes (none of which should have been used previously) and preparing massive mobile decorative stages.
Every year each school chooses a new theme, a new choreographic program and according to the similar type of dress they are divided into subgroups. These subgroups are separated from one another by decorative mobile stages, where honourable guests are seated.
At the carnival, 60-80 minutes are allowed for the performance of each Samba school, that is the presentation of the art of around 3,000 to 5,000 dancers and from 6 to 8 colorful mobile stages.
It is essential for the school to be composed of several subgroups.
Abre-alas is a group made up solely of men who lead each school and perform specially choreographed compositions.
Ala das bainas is a collection of astounding-looking women dressed in impressive, rounded colonial-style frocks.
Velha Guarda is a group of men traditionally dressed in white suits and panamas. This group personifies the Malandro - the traditional character of a Rio resident. As a rule, this subgroup completes the performance of each individual school.
Each school has a special couple called Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeiras. The woman Porta-bandeiras proudly carries the school flag and the viewers welcome her with a standing ovation. The duty of her partner - Mestre-sala is to direct all the attention of the audience to his queen. Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeiras achieve this goal by delicately refined movements.
The schools also include subgroups composed of children. They have the Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeiras of their own, who often even surpass their adult colleagues in plasticity and temperament.
The gorgeously coloured mobile-stages, with their special effects, are indeed magnificent. Birds with moving wings, smoke-emitting dragons and others create an unforgettable impression. The size of the stages is limited, however. This is because the narrow streets leading to the Sambadrome do not allow the passage of more massive stages.
There are a number of criteria by which the carnival judges (the LIESA) assess the performance of the carnival participants. The LIESA is made up of the members of the Samba School League, who are seated in different sections of the podium. But apart from them, each Karioka (i.e. a Rio de Janeiro resident) considers himself to be the greatest Samba expert and individually judges the participants to compare his opinion with the final results.
The Kariokas are as faithful fans of their favourite Samba schools as they are of their favourite football teams. One does not say in Portuguese that one is a Mangeira or a Flamenco fan. What one says is something that translates roughly as: “I am Mangeira or I am Flamenco”.
At the end of the festivities, the five best schools take part in the “Parade of the Winners”.
As the carnival comes to a close, Rio, emptied of excitement, passion and ecstasy, relaxes its exhausted body. But this peace is only temporary because the very next day, the city will awake to the expectation of the next carnival.