Many places may have Carnival celebrations but none can match that of the Rio samba parades at the Sambadrome. The stadium is at the very heart of Brazilian culture, where the spirit of the Carnival reigns supreme on all nights of the festival. The focus of attention is on the top 12 samba schools that compete on Carnival Sunday and Monday for the championship title.
There are many elements to a parade, which each samba school prepares for with great attention throughout the year. Apart from the colorful costumes and vivacious samba dancers, what brings the Rio samba parade to life is the samba song and theme that becomes the basis around which each school develops its performance. The panel of 40 judges has the unenviable task of awarding points to each school for these elements. While the bevy of beauties could steal the show in their exotic costumes and graceful moves, there are many other aspects of the parade that judges consider when deciding the champion. Samba dancers also compete for the title of Carnival Queen and Carnival Princess. One team is declared the champion on Ash Wednesday but each team is a champion in their own right and in the eyes of millions of spectators.
Preparations for Rio samba parade starts as soon as the previous year´s Champions are announced. Members of each samba school spend the entire year putting together the different elements for their parade in a bid to become the champion. Each member is given a specific task to perform. The samba song and theme are the first to be developed, after which all the other elements are brought together by a number of choreographers, producers, musicians, artisans, electricians, costume designers, and more. The samba song remains a secret until December when the schools get down to the serious end of business with rehearsals held right through until the Carnival day arrives.
The samba school’s Carnival Designer is responsible for creating a theme for the Rio samba parade. The designer shares his vision with the other team members who then go about creating costume designs, float decorations, and accessories based on the theme. A number of choreographers are involved in the process and work in close coordination with the Carnival designer. Every sequence of the theme needs to be well orchestrated in order to present a spectacular performance for the spectators and the judges at the final showdown at the Sambadrome. Behind the designer and choreographers are thousands of locals who come forward in a community effort to make the Rio samba parade the grandest of all occasions.
Every samba school is divided into sections called ‘alas’ or wings. Each wing has a specific role to play in the parade and consists of 100 members according to the rules laid down by LIESA, the regulatory authority of the samba schools. Each wing is supervised by a president who is in charge of the costumes for the specific wing. They also have the task of ensuring that the skillful samba performers in their wing move in unison and make their way down the runway in the stipulated 85 minutes. The president is also in charge of costume sales and coordinating with visitors who purchase samba parade tickets to join the samba school at the parade.
Probably what sets the Sambadrome alight are the pair of graceful and highly skilled dancers that lead the samba school onto the runway. The Flag Bearer and her Escort or ‘Mestre-sala’ are chosen at a competition and have the privilege and honor of heading their samba school. The Flag Bearer is usually the ‘Rainha’ or Queen of the samba school, a coveted position that is well earned by ladies with exquisite dancing skills.
At the very essence of samba are the drummers and percussionists that belt out the lilting melodies that remain in the hearts of cariocas forever. The ‘bateria’ or percussionists are a group of around 250 – 300 of the most eminent musicians that are led by the Queen of the Drummers who has the potential to captivate the frenzied crowd with her nimble footsteps and hips gyrating to the intoxicating beats of the caixa drums. The lavishly decorated floats carry a bevy of graceful samba dancers in their elaborate costumes along with samba vocalists who beckon the crowds to join in their song.
The first thing that comes to mind at a Rio samba parade are the sensuous group of samba dancers or ‘passitas’ that are as energetic as they are graceful in their performances. The group of 15 – 20 dancers is selected at a competition held by samba schools. The group dances non-stop down the runway doing justice to the drummers who continue to produce the energetic rhythms all through the parade. The judges pay keen attention to the dancers and drummers as they continue to keep the crowds enthralled with their seductive and sensuous moves.
The samba song is what every Rio samba parade is based on. These tunes represent the true spirit of the carioca, which became popular with all times greats like the late Clara Nunes who had one of the largest fan followings. The samba song revolves around the theme that a school chooses to present at the Rio samba parade. Often, the theme is based on well known personalities or social and political issues related to Rio or Brazil. Judges listen with rapt attention to the lyrics and melody of each samba song before they award points to a team. Each samba school releases their version for the Rio samba parade in December as the Carnival fever begins to set in. With a copy of the lyrics you will be able to understand the presentation by each school at a deeper level. However, the costumes and elaborately decorated floats portray they theme equally well.
The best way to enjoy Rio samba parades is to be amongst the thousands of cariocas at the Sambadrome. Joining in the sensational performances by the samba schools are 80,000 spectators that turn the Sambadrome into one big party zone where the samba rules supreme. Samba Parade tickets to these coveted events sell out fast. The seating arrangements include grandstands, open boxes or frisas, and luxury air-conditioned suites or camarotes that are all sold out as early as December. To be at the epicenter of Carnival celebrations make sure you book your tickets and your costume today.