By Bruno De Nicola, Senior Reporter

Portela’s Escola de Samba in blue and white during 2009's Carnival, photo by sfmission/Flickr Creative Commons License.
Portela’s Escola de Samba in blue and white during 2009's Carnival, photo by sfmission/Flickr Creative Commons License.

RIO DE JANEIRO – February may still be three months off, but the majority of those involved with Carnival have already been hard at work, the weekly rehearsals are underway, and Portela Samba School, founded on Rua Portela in the Madureira neighbourhood of Zona Norte, is readying itself for success in 2010.

Also known by some as a ‘Gremio’, Portela’s Escola de Samba has a rich history in the competition and is a popular choice to take first place at the Sambodromo contest in 2010. ‘The Majesty Of Samba’, Portela has won 21 carnival competitions to date, an all time record.

The biggest and best Carnival party in the world will next year take place on the 14th and 15th of February, in the unusual samba stadium Sambodromo on Marquis de Sapocai Avenue. Portela will be competing with eleven other schools from the major league of Samba, the Grupo Especial, hoping to carry home its 22nd title.

The Sambodrome nights are utterly unique events every year. The seas of incredible costumes, enormous themed floats, happy people and beautiful bodies all blend in a massive party where Brazilians forget about social distinction and dance together to the drum-beat.

2009's Carnival witnessed some spectacular themes from the Samba Schools, photo by Doug Gray.
2009's Carnival witnessed some spectacular themes from the Samba Schools, photo by Doug Gray.
However, what may appear to be a mere party is actually an intense competition with a whole set of precise rules and fierce inter-school rivalries for the lucrative first prize that runs into millions of Reais.

Each year the huge event costs around R$60 million (US$35 million) and over 50,000 people take part in it. Twelve schools compete parading along the 800 yard ‘musical catwalk’, in a strictly  limited period of time that must be between 65 and 80 minutes long.

Each school, pics a theme for their Sambodrome show, called ‘Enredo’ and after making their choice every last detail of the parade is designed with that in mind. Previously these have included huge ski slopes, fully mechanized elephants and giant brains, to name just a few. The costumes, the floats and obviously the words to the samba song, which is played and sung by the school’s own band in a constant loop for over an hour, must totally reflect the theme.

Portela’s enredo this year is: “Derubando fronteiras, conquistando a liberdade… Um Rio de paz num estado de graça” (“Break through frontiers, conquest freedom… A peaceful Rio, living in grace”), a theme about digital freedom, social inclusion and other benefits of being connected to the internet.

School President, Nilo Figueredo, spoke positively about this unusually technological theme , saying he believes that “this year people will see something new on the catwalk, something completely different”.

The blue and white Eagle of Portela will fly again in 2010 in search of victory, image by G.R.E.S Portela
The blue and white Eagle of Portela will fly again in 2010 in search of victory, image by G.R.E.S Portela.

The Blue and White Gremio from Madureira, founded in 1932, is undoubtedly the most recognizable of all of Rio’s samba schools. Twenty-one titles is quite a resume, however the last time Portela won the contest was way back in 1995. Perhaps, the intention of doing something new comes from a deeper need for renewal.

In spite of the fact that ‘A Portela’ might be harder to reach than other popular gremios, the school rehearsals are strongly recommended and take place on Fridays, starting from 11pm. The school offers incredible shows to its fans with A Velha Guarda (the school veterans) made up of more than two soccer teams-worth of samba stars; watching them sing is like listening to the Buena Vista Social Club chaps – a mystical musical voyage. The most popular Brazilian artists have also been known to support and sing at Portela, including Gilberto Gil, Marisa Monte and Paulinho da Viola.

This might really be the chance you were waiting for to stretch out to the suburbs. For further info about Portela’s time-tables and directions please access www.gresportela.com.br.

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