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By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With themes ranging from São Jorge to Don Quixote to Marques de Sapucai to a celebration of the Olympic Games, six samba schools paraded in Rio de Janeiro`s Sambódromo on Sunday, February 7th, the first night of two of the 2016 Grupo Especial (Special Group) Carnival competition.

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Samba school Mocidade paid tribute to Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” during their 2016 parade, photo by Tata Barreto/Riotur.

The six schools that paraded were, in order: Estácio de Sá, União da Ilha, Beija-Flor, Grande Rio, Mocidade, Unidos da Tijuca.

Estácio de Sá began the night with their presentation of the enredo (theme), “Salve Jorge! O Guerreiro na Fé ” (Hail Jorge! The Warrior in the Faith). A tribute to São Jorge (Saint George), the procession was filled with depictions of the Saint and the dragon, that according to legend, he slayed.

The samba school União da Ilha followed with a tribute to the Olympic Games, presenting the theme “Olímpico por natureza… Todo mundo se encontra no Rio” (Olympic in nature … Everyone is meeting in Rio). Their procession included giant suns, a large depiction of the famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)statue and athletes from cyclists to acrobatic wheelchair competitors.

2015 Carnival Champions Beija-Flor paraded next and presented the theme “Mineirinho Genial! Nova Lima – Cidade Natal. Marquês de Sapucaí – O Poeta Imortal,” a tribute to Marquis of Sapucaí, the famed Brazilian professor, poet, musician, writer, politician, and the namesake of Sambódromo Marquês de Sapucaí where the Carnival competitions are held. The parade also celebrated singer and composer Neguinho da Beija-Flor’s fortieth year as the official interpreter for the school.

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Samba school União da Ilha celebrated the Olympics during their 2016 Carnival parade, photo by Liesa/Fat Press.

Samba school Grande Rio then paid tribute to the city of Santos with their theme: “Fui no Itororó beber água, não achei. Mas achei a bela Santos, e por ela me apaixonei…” (I went to Itororó to drink the water, but I did not think. I found the beautiful Santos and she fell in love…”). While Neymar and Pelé, famous former members of the Santos FC (Football Club) were invited to participate in the parade but could not attend, celebrities including Susana Vieira, Thaila Ayala, Paloma Bernardi, Monique Alfradique, and Daniela Albuquerque, among others did join the school’s procession.

Next the samba school Mocidade presented the theme: “O Brasil de La Mancha” (“The Brazil of La Mancha”), a tribute to Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” Brazilian pop superstar Anitta made her debut as the school’s muse and fellow Brazilian superstar Claudia Leitte served as the rainha da bateria (queen of the percussion section) for the second year in a row.

Samba school Unidos da Tijuca closed the night with their presentation of the theme “Semeando sorriso, a Tijuca festeja o solo sagrado” (Sowing smile, Tijuca celebrates the sacred ground), a tribute to the city of Sorriso in the state of Mato Grosso. Celebrating agriculture, the procession featured members dressed as corn and members covered in mud.

On Monday, February 8th the remaining six schools from the Special Group will parade. Vila Isabel will begin the night followed by Salgueiro, São Clemente, Portela, and Imperatiz, with Mangueira closing the night.

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