By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – For the first time in over seventy years Unidos da Tijuca took the title of Carnival Champions narrowly beating Grande Rio in the judge’s verdict on Wednesday afternoon.
The school captured the imaginations of the watching millions with their parade of ‘secrets’, involving some glittering costume changes and a bateria dressed up somewhat ironically as mafiosos.
Depictions of America’s infamous ‘Area 51’ UFO research center and the Bermuda Triangle helped deliver the sense of mystery whilst the skiing batmen descending a dry ski slope added the humor, a blend which the judge’s clearly loved.
It was Beija Flor who had the honor of kicking off the 2010 Samba Schools Parade on Sunday evening in a sweltering Sambódromo, delivering a typically eye-catching opening show, but the school from Nilopolis couldn’t do better than third place.
It was an interesting choice of theme celebrating fifty years of history of Brasilia since its construction as the country’s political power-base with enormous golden floats and a model of the city’s iconic cathedral sent down the Sambódromo’s route and paying homage to architect Oscar Niemayer.
Madonna was among the audience this year as a guest of Governor Sergio Cabral, but an attempt to join the action had to be halted as an army of security guards and paparazzi threatened to bring the parade to a standstill.
Also competing on Sunday, Salgueiro, last year’s winners, threw everything into their show, including acrobats, a golden outfit from The Arab Emirates for Queen Viviane Araujo, and typically flamboyant floats. Uniao da Ilha, Imperatriz Leopoldinense and Viradouro completed the line up, the latter’s seven year old bateria queen having caused a storm of controversy in the lead up to this year’s carnival and clearly the attention got too much as she broke down in tears. The school finished in last place and will be relegated into the second division next year.
With the bar set so high on the opening night, it was down to Mangueira and Portela to try and recreate the magic during Monday’s parade. Mangueira produced a green and pink whirlwind with their homage to Brazilian music, with the bateria even building to a funk crescendo as the last truck entered the avenue, the first time the school has ever used the rhythm in one of their shows.
Portela were able to count on Flamengo footballing hero Petkovic among their number, with last year’s Brazilian title-winning player appearing in their parade for the third year and ensuring a huge cheer from the crowds. Though some problems with the hi-tech outfits cost the school dearly in the race for the title, their use of technology and the interactive SMS displays – including one marriage proposal – pointed towards the future possibilities of the parade.
The city huddled around their TV sets on Wednesday afternoon for the traditionally long-winded scores to be announced, and the scenes of celebration for the organizers of Unidos da Tijuca will doubtless be matched again on Saturday night when the winner’s parade takes place.