By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Carnival officially begins on Saturday, February 9th and the wait for the samba school competition is almost over. Yet before the schools from the Grupo Especial (Special Group) are scheduled to compete, nineteen samba schools from the Access Group will parade in the Sambódromo, on Friday, February 8th and Saturday, February 9th.
Tickets for this Access Group’s processions are less expensive than the main championship parades but the competition is just as fierce, as the winner will advance to the Grupo Especial next year.
One school among the Access Group of competitors to watch this year is G.R.E.S. Renascer de Jacarepaguá. The school began as the bloco, “Bafo do Bode” in 1958 and won the Access Group competition in 2011 with their Enredo (Theme), “Águas de Março” (Water of March).
However, the following year they had a poor showing with their presentation of the theme, “Romero Brito: O artista da alegria, dá o tom na folia” (Romero Brito: The artist’s joy, sets the tone in revelry). The theme which paid tribute to Brazilian artist, Romero Brito, earned the school 13th place and a demotion back to the Access Group.
This year as they parade last for the group on Saturday, February 9th, they will present the theme, “Rio, uma viagem alucinante!” (Rio, a hallucinatory trip!), an homage to the Cidade Maravilhosa.
Another famous school parading this year in the Access Group is G.R.E.S. Escola Unidos do Porto da Pedra. The school was founded in São Gonçalo, a city outside of Niterói and across the bay from Rio. Porto da Pedra are scheduled to enter the Sambódromo this year as the second school of the opening night of competition on Friday, February 8th.
The school had maintained a spot in the Grupo Especial since 2002 but last year only earned 12th place and a demotion after they presented their theme, “Da Seiva Materna ao Equilíbrio da Vida” (From Maternal Sap to the Balance of Life). It was a theme about the importance of dairy products and their nutritional value.
G.R.E.S. Unidos do Viradouro, one of the more traditional schools in the Access Group, is another school to watch this year. They are scheduled to parade last for the group on the first night of competition, February 8th.
Founded in 1946 by Nelson dos Santos, in the neighborhood of Viradouro in the city of Niterói, the school originally paraded there winning the Niteroi Carnival Championship eighteen times.
In 1986 they began to compete in Rio and paraded that year in the fifth division. Viradouro steadily moved up the ranks earning placement in the Special Group in 1991.
Joãosinho Trinta took the position of Carnavalesco for the school in 1994 and led them to victory in 1997 with the theme, “Trevas! Luz! A explosão do universo.” (Darkness! Light! The explosion of the universe). To date, that was their only Rio Carnival Championship win.
Viraduouro remained in the Special Group until 2010 when they presented the theme, “México, o Paraíso das Cores, sob o Signo do Sol” (Mexico Colors of Paradise, under the Sign of the Sun). That year they earned 12th place and were demoted to the Access Group. Where they have remained since.
One last school of particular note from the Access Group is G.R.E.S. Império Serrano. Created in 1947, the school has achieved Special Group placement for fifteen out of the last 23 years of the Carnival competition. They were crowned Champion in 2008 for their presentation of the theme, “Taí, eu fiz tudo para você gostar de mim” (Tai, I did everything for you to like me).
Império Serrano is well known for it’s classic Samba-Enredo (Theme Songs) which have included 1964′s Aquarela Brasileira (“Brazilian Aquarelle”) and 1982′s “Bumbum paticumbum Prugurundum”.