By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On February 7th during the first night of Grupo Especial (Special Group) competition, samba school Acadêmicos do Grande Rio will celebrate the city of Santos, São Paulo as it parades fourth in the famed Sambódromo during the 2016 Carnival Championship.
Acadêmicos do Grande Rio, often referred to simply as Grande Rio, is well known for enredos (themes) that celebrate locations and places. In 2014 they honored Marciá, a town located approximately sixty kilometers (forty miles) east of Niterói. The school also celebrated areas of the Amazon region in 1995, 1997, 2006 and 2008.
This year Grande Rio will honor Santos, a coastal city located in the state of São Paulo. The school will present the 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…” The procession will include depictions of the story of the Fonte do Itororó (Itororó Fountain), a fountain in Santos, which according to legend caused one to fall in love if he or she drank from it.
The area of Santos is best known for the Santos Basin, an offshore pre-salt basin and for its beaches. It is also home to the the Santos FC (Football Club). Both famous football (soccer) legend Pelé and current football superstar Neymar are former Santos FC players and will reportedly attend Grande Rio’s upcoming parade.
Grande Rio was founded in the city Duque de Caxias in 1988, making it one of the younger samba schools in the Carnival competition. The school was created by a merger of two of the area’s schools, Acadêmicos de Caxias and Grande Rio and is represented by the symbol of a crown over a shield divided in half.
Grande Rio debuted in the 1989 competition with a performance that helped the school to advance into the Access Group (or Group A, now known as Série A) during the following year’s competition.
For their 1990 parade, Grande Rio presented the theme, “Why I am a Carioca [a Rio native].” The performance was so successful, the school earned a place in the top tier and then made their Special Group debut in 1991.
However, that performance failed to impress judges. The school finished in sixteenth place and were demoted back to the Access Group. In 1992 Grande Rio once again won the Access Group competition and reclaimed their spot in the Special Group for 1993.
In 2001, the famous Joãosinho Trinta took on the position of Grande Rio’s carnavalesco (Carnival designer) and led the school for four years. Unfortunately, Trinta failed to reproduce the same success for the school as he had with samba schools Salgueiro and Beija-Flor in the 1970s and 1980s. Grande Rio’s highest placement during Trinta’s term was third place in 2003.
In 2004, Roberto Szaniecki took over the position of carnavalesco. During his term, he led the school to third place finishes twice and then to two back-to-back Vice-champion (second place) wins in 2006 and 2007. Vice-champion is the closest the school has come thus far in their short history.
In 2014, Ricardo Fernandes took the position of carnavalesco followed by Fábio Ricardo in 2015.
Ricardo helped the school present the enredo, “A Grande Rio é do baralho!” (Grande Rio is of a card pack). The theme explored the meanings of card games and their symbolism and usage, from forms of leisure to gambling to divination. That parade earned the school a tie for third place in the overall competition.
In the hopes of once again becoming Vice-champion or of finally taking home the championship, Grande Rio will once again be led by carnavalesco Fabio Ricardo this year and actress Paloma Bernardi will return to serve as rainha de bateria (queen of the percussion section). The school features approximately 3,700 members, who will be divided into thirty-three ala (wings/sections) for the parade.
“Santos is giving us a very good chance of winning the Carnival title,” Grande Rio president Milton Perácio told A Tribuna. “Today, we are a very capabale school, with professionals, including Fabio [Ricardo], who have come from other schools and won other titles.” ”