By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the official dates of Carnival 2012 almost upon us, all eyes turn to the Grupo Especial (Special Group), the largest and most accomplished samba schools in the world. The crème de la crème of Rio’s samba schools will be parading at the Sambódromo on Sunday, February 19th, and Monday, February 20th in the famous competition down Marquês de Sapucaí in front of 90,000 jubilant spectators.
Sunday, February 19th
9PM – Renascer de Jacarepaguá: The school will make its debut in the Special Group after winning the access parade in 2011. The schools chosen enredo (theme) is “The joy artist sets the rules in revelry” a tribute to the life and work of Romero Brito, a Brazilian painter and sculptor.
10:05 PM – Portela: Considered the oldest school in the parade it holds the record for the highest number of victories (21 altogether). This year’s enredo is “… 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). The theme highlights some of the oldest religious practices in Brazil.
11:10 PM – Imperatriz: The school can boast an impressively competent artistic team who have created the enredo “Jorge, Amado Jorge” (Jorge, beloved Jorge) which explores the life and cultural legacy of world famous Brazilian writer, Jorge Amado.
12:15 AM – Mocidade: Their last win was sixteen years ago but all that could change with this year’s enredo “Por Ti, Portinari, Rompendo a Tela, a Realidade” (For you, Portinari. Ripping the canvas, to the reality). The theme is a tribute to popular Brazilian artist Candido Portinari.
01:20 AM – Porto da Pedra: The school is showcasing a rather unconventional enredo this year called “Da Seiva Materna ao Equilíbrio da Vida,” meaning “From maternal sap to the balance of life.” The theme is a celebration of dairy products as part of a healthy diet. As one of the schools affected by the fire last year, it hopes to make a grand comeback.
02:25 AM – Beija-Flor: Last year’s Carnival champions have been working with a creative team to produce their current enredo “São Luis – Maranhao`s bewitched poem.” The theme tells the story of São Luis city which has experienced a turbulent history.
03:30 AM – Vila Isabel: They will be the last school to perform on Sunday with their enredo “Você samba lá … Que eu samba aqui! O canto livre de Angola” (You dance samba there… And I dance samba here! The free chant from Angola). The school pays tribute to Brazilian culture’s African roots. Super model Gisele Bündchen is a huge fan of the school.
Monday, February 20th
9PM – São Clemente: Created in Botafogo, this is the school’s second consecutive year back in the Special Group. Its current enredo “Uma Aventura Musical na Sapucaí” (A musical adventure in Sapucaí) takes inspiration from a selection of much loved Broadway musicals.
10:05 PM – União da Ilha: Considered to be one of the most joyful samba schools in the Rio Carnival. Their parade theme is “Carnaval 2012 de Londres ao Rio: Era uma vez.. Uma Ilha” (Carnival 2012 from London to Rio. Once upon a time… There was an Island) which highlights the connection between the two Olympic host cities, Rio and London.
11:10 PM – Salgueiro: Their last victory was in 2009 but the school hopes to be crowned champions once more with the enredo “Cordel Branco e Encarnado” (White charmed cord). The theme pays homage to “cord Literature,” a traditional Brazilian craft.
12:15 AM – Mangueira: The first school to be crowned Carnival champion at the Sambódromo, Mangueira is no stranger to success, having secured eighteen wins over the years. Their current enredo is “Vou festejar! Sou Cacique, sou Mangueira” (I will celebrate! I am Cacique! I am Mangueira!) a tribute to famous Carnival band Cacique de Ramos.
01:20 AM – Unidos da Tijuca: A renowned supporter of Brazilian culture, this year true to form, they has chosen the enredo “O Dia em Que Toda a Realeza Desembarcou na Avenida para Coroar o Rei Luiz do Sertão” (The day all royalty landed on the avenue to have king Louis Crowned). The theme is a tribute to deceased Brazilian Singer and Composer Louis Gonzaga.
02:25 AM – Grande Rio: Having suffered from the effects of a fire before Carnival 2011, Grande Rio feared demotion to the Access Group. It hopes to rebuild its prominence with the enredo “Eu acredito em você! E você?” meaning, “I believe in you! And you?” Words which perfectly sum up the positive attitude adopted by the contestants in light of the past events.