Rio de Janeiro's samba schools vie for title

AP News
Posted: Feb 12, 2013 3:32 PM
Rio de Janeiro's samba schools vie for title

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Carnival revelers danced until dawn on Tuesday as Rio de Janeiro's samba schools held their annual sequin-drenched parade competitions at the city's iconic Sambadrome.

The all-night-long parade saw six top-tier samba schools deploy powerful percussion sections, larger-than-life floats and battalions of nearly nude samba dancers.

Tens of thousands of people watched the dance parades from the bleachers and swanky VIP stands inside the Sambadrome, while millions more caught the spectacle via television.

Tragedy overshadowed Carnival festivities in Brazil's port city of Santos, where a fire on a float killed four people and injured five others early Tuesday.

A fire department official in Santos said the float caught fire shortly after the Sangue Jovem samba school ended its parade at dawn, killing three people who were pushing the float and a woman watching the parade. Witnesses said the float caught fire after striking a power line.

Results of the showcase parades in Rio, which saw 12 samba schools compete for this year's Carnival title, will be announced later this week. The winning schools from various categories will hit the Sambadrome again on Saturday for a parade of champions.

One of the oldest and most traditional samba schools, Mangueira, wowed the crowd Monday night with its parade dedicated to the central Brazilian city of Cuiaba. Thousands of dancers streamed through the Sambadrome in elaborate green and pink costumes kitted out with headdresses depicting local fauna in Cuiaba, such as ant eaters, armadillos and snakes.

Performers wearing only feather headbands, strategically draped beads and shimmering gold body paint danced atop a float embellished with glinting sculptures of Indian warriors.

When the sound went out due to an apparent technical problem, the crowd clapped to the rhythm and the dancers continued their complicated footwork.

Another historical school, Beija Flor, paid homage to a Brazilian race of horse, the Mangalarga Marchador, in its parade. Floats included a giant Trojan horse and one decorated with Mesopotamian carts.

The Grande Rio school riffed on the theme of petroleum in an apparent homage to the discovery of massive offshore oil deposits off Rio's coast. The school sent out dancers dressed in deep sea diving equipment complete with oversized fins, and others in black sequined dresses meant to look like an oil slick. Another group of dancers with the same school puzzled spectators when they danced by wearing giant plates of lobster and brandished oversized cutlery.

While the Sambadrome parades are the telegenic highlight of Rio's Carnival extravaganza, about 700 "blocos," or street parties, brought the celebrations into the city's neighborhoods. Millions of revelers turned out last Saturday for the Bola Preta street party in Rio's historic downtown.

Carnival officially ends on Tuesday, the night before the beginning of the somber Christian season of Lent leading up to Easter, but the blocos will continue celebrating through the weekend.