By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Founded in 1923, G.R.E.S Portela is regarded as the oldest and most traditional samba school in Rio de Janeiro, where it represents the neighborhood of Madureira in the city’s Zona Norte (North Zone). In it’s early formation, the school went by a number of different names until it eventually became known as Portela, appropriately chosen due to the fact that its meetings were often held at a location in Rua Portela.
The club’s emblem of an eagle in flight is possibly one of the most recognizable of the samba schools, and was designed by Antonio Caetano to symbolize the desire to fly and overcome the force of gravity.
Not only is Portela one of the oldest samba schools, it is also considered to be one of the most successful of the Special Group, holding the record for the highest number of victories, 21 in total, and for famously winning the first official Carnival parade in 1935.
Furthermore, the club is credited for providing the inspiration and material for the popular samba album of 2000, “Tudo Azul,” meaning “all blue” and composed by a group of former members known as the Velha Guarda (Old Guard). The name itself is said to be a tribute to the school whose official colors are white and blue.
Despite its early success and impressive accumulation of victories, G.R.E.S Portela lost some of its prominence during the 1980s, resulting in the belief by many that it only remained in the Special Group on account of its history and fame.
Nevertheless, during the mid nineties, things were looking up once again as the school was crowned vice champion of Carnival 1995 with the theme, “Gosto que me enrosco” (I like when I twist myself). Its relative success continued for a while, but sadly, the parades of 2005 and onwards were not as strong for Portela and it has remained in a mediocre position ever since.
Worse still, the bad luck appeared to intensify when, in February 2011, a fire swept through part of the Samba City, damaging Portela, Grande Rio and União da Ilha. Consequently, none of the affected schools were considered for judging despite the fact that they did manage to participate in the Carnival parade.
Fortunately, Carnival 2012 will give Portela the opportunity to reassert itself with the enredo (theme) “…E o povo na rua cantando. É feito uma reza, um ritual…” (And the people singing on the streets, is like a prayer, a ritual).
As the most traditional of the samba schools, Portela will aptly focus on some of the oldest religious practices in Brazil, namely the Candomblé religion which was introduced to Bahia by African slave settlers whose practices have become a huge part of Brazilian culture.
Actress Sheron Menezes will remain as the club’s official Rainha (Queen) from 2011. Portela’s president, Nilo Figueiredo Mendes, announced the decision in March this year. Speaking to Brazilian news network ‘Terra,’ he explained, “she exceeded all of our expectations and [represented] the school and community well. [She] is to be congratulated.”
With just eleven weeks until Carnival, the school is no doubt busy rehearsing for its long awaited comeback due to take place on February 19, 2012. To find out more about Portela, the rehearsal timetable and how to get there, visit the website.