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Across the Equator

South American Adventures

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Carnaval Parade - Rehearsal Night
losmorris
The big event of Carnaval season is the two day competition that occurs between the top twelve Samba schools (the Grupo Especial) in the Sambódromo in downtown Rio. This spectacular happens on the Sunday and Monday night before Fat Tuesday, though by “night” I mean from 8pm to 6am the following morning. We, of course, had to go but first we wanted to scope out the location and get a better sense of what we were in for. And for that, we went to some of the rehearsals, or Ensaios.

Starting about 2 months before Carnaval the Sambódromo schedules rehearsals every Saturday and Sunday for 2-3 samba schools to do their routine and prepare for their big night. Unlike the actual competition, the rehearsals are free. However, the costumes and floats are absent and the pageantry is only a fraction of the big event. It is well worth it though if you ever have the time during pre-Carnaval. The music is great and the up close and personal factor is pretty special.

So here is a little flavor of what a Carnaval rehearsal has to offer.

In early February I went with some friends to the Sambódromo to see the São Clemente samba school. We arrived in plenty of time for the scheduled 8pm start. This being only a rehearsal and this being Brazil, it started at 9pm and we hung around on or near the street which will be the parade route on the night of the big event.

As we were waiting we could see lots of folk lining up and hear the percussion getting started. Continual shouts of “Bateria! Bateria!” filled the air to stir up the players and the energy. This went on for about 45 minutes as we patiently waited…..

I mentioned that weekend evenings are dedicated to samba school rehearsals. Well apparently the rest of the time is dedicated to painting, construction and other activities to make the street and its seating areas ready for the attendees at the big competition. Seating this night was humble at best!



Similarly costumes are pretty humble at this stage. Each group in the parade did have its own distinctive attire, but nothing like the extravagance they would display at the big event. Here is the “ala das baianas”, the wing of the samba school that includes about 100 ladies, including some who are quite elderly. This is a required wing for the samba school competition. For the rehearsal they showed up in simple hoop skirts. Watch for the real thing in a later post.



Drag queens too have to dress down, but the smiles were fully radiant!



Unfortunately we did not see the São Clemente school for big event – I would love to know what the balloons represent and what they were to be replaced with……



This skit would have been a kick to see as well. This was a Girl from Ipanema display in drag!



A regular feature in each of the samba schools is the porta-bandeira (flag bearer) and mestre-sala (the dude who calls attention to her and to the flag). These positions are highly sought and many of them are quite famous. Thus, even for rehearsal, they were pretty classy.



We also went to the last night of rehearsals to see two samba schools – Imperatriz and Beija-Flor - with good friends Mary and Claudio. This time we sat up in the stands so got a different view of the Sambodromo.



From up here we had a better view of the lay out. The Sambódromo is a street, about half a mile long, lined with viewing stands and buildings that house the “camarotes” or luxury boxes. As you can see, some paint had been applied since my last visit and the place really seemed to be coming together. This was Richard’s first trip here and, facial expression aside, he had a blast!



This guy is incredible. He is the “Fat King” or “King Momo” and is crowned at the Friday kick off of the weekend of festivities. However, before his official crowning he has work to do. He dances with each of the samba schools both in rehearsal and at the Sambodromo competition. He also has a queen and 2 princesses joining him and one wonders how he can keep up the pace. But he does….



The luxury boxes across the way are coming along nicely….. Lucky folks who sit there will have rain protection but will have paid a bloody fortune for the privilege.



Beija-flor (meaning hummingbird) was the school we really wanted to see and they did not disappoint. Each school has its own colors and I chose the Beija-flor blue and white for my event night decking out.



Again, King Momo is here for the second school, perhaps checking his watch to find out when this darn thing is going to end…..



Each school has thousands of participants and is allotted about 50 minutes on the night of the competition. Therefore they have to step lively, if not necessarily in perfect formation. These are not the Rockettes after all – this is Carnaval!


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