By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Now that the Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations are over and 2016 has begun, attention in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil turns to the upcoming Carnival, which this year will take place on February 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th. To start the official Carnival competition in Rio, the first seven samba schools of the fourteen in lower group, Série A (formerly Group A and Access Group), will parade in the Sambódromo on February 5th.

Alegria da Zona Sul, Carnival 2015, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
Alegria da Zona Sul performing during Carnival 2015, photo by Raphael David/Riotur.

The yearly Carnival parades held in the Sambódromo, while colorful, music-filled and celebratory are in actuality a serious competition. Similar to most major sporting competitions, participating samba schools in the parades are ranked and separated into divisions.

The six major divisions are: the Grupo Especial (Special Group) and Série A, as well as Série B, C, and D. Only the Grupo Especial and the schools in Série A will parade in the Sambódromo.

While the Série A parades are not as popular as the Special Group parades, the stakes are high for each school, as the winning school gets to advance to the top tier of the competition in 2017.

On February 5th, the order from first samba school to enter the Sambódromo to the last, during the opening day of the Série A parades is; Acadêmicos da Rocinha, Alegria da Zona Sul, Unidos do Porto da Pedra, Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz, Unidos do Viradouro, Renascer de Jacarepaguá, and Império da Tijuca.

Acadêmicos da Rocinha – Founded in 1988, Acadêmicos da Rocinha won the Série B competition in 2015, moving it up into the Série A this year. During their history, the school has competed multiple times in Série A and twice in the Special Group (main competition) in 2006 and 1997. A last place finish in Série A in 2014 after eight years in that division demoted the school to Série B.

Given its history, this is a school to watch this year as it parades with the enredo (theme); “Nova Roma é Brasil, Brasil é a Rocinha!” (New Rome is Brazil, Brazil is Rocinha), which celebrates the community and the history and future of the area the members call home.

Alegria da Zona Sul – Formed from a combination of the blocos Alegria de Copacabana and Unidos do Cantagalo in 1992, Alegria da Zona Sul is one of the few samba schools from Zona Sul (South Zone). It currently represents the communities of Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho and is represented by Disney characters Zé Carioca and Panchito as its symbols and blue, green and white as its colors.

Alegria da Zona Sul is also well known for addressing Afro-Brazilian/Black issues in its enredos. Previous themes have included 1994’s “Na Dança das Cores: Preto Não é Cor, Mas Negro é Raça” (The Dance of Colors: Black is not color, but black is Race), 1998’s “Mulher negra é cultura mundial” (Black woman is world culture) and 2003’s “Festa no Quilombo: na Coroação de um Rei Negro” (Party in Quilombo: the Coronation of a Black King).

This year, the school’s enredo will be a tribute to the Candomblé orixá Ogum, a blacksmith deity in Yoruba mythology.

Porto da Pedra – Formed in 1978 in the municipality of São Gonçalo, located across the Guanabara Bay from Rio, Porto da Pedra has paraded in the Special Group numerous times, only being demoted to the Série A group in 2013 after maintaining their place in the top league for eleven years.

Exploring issues facing their home, this year the school will present the theme, “Palhaço Carequinha, paixão e orgulho de São Gonçalo. Tá certo ou não tá?” (Bald Clown, passion and pride of São Gonçalo. That’s right or not right?).

Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz – Formed in 1959 in Rio’s Zone Oeste (West Zone) neighborhood of Santa Cruz, Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz is the samba school located furthest away from the Sambódromo, which has helped it to gain the reputation of being rural compared the other schools in competition.

This year they will present the theme, “Diz mata! Digo verde. A natureza veste a incerteza. E o amanhã?” (You say kill! I say green. Nature wear uncertianty. What happens tomorrow?).

Unidos do Viradouro – Placing last in the Special Group competition in 2015, Unidos do Viradouro earned a demotion to the Série A this year.

Founded in 1946 in Niterói, the city located across the Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro, Unidos do Viradouro competed in Niterói until 1989, when they joined the main competition in Rio. By 1991, they had earned a place in the Special Group and they maintained their position there for two decades.

In 1997, led by famed Carnavalesco (Carnival Designer), Joãosinho Trinta , Viradouro won their first and only Carnival championship to date with the presentation of the theme, “Trevas! Luz! A explosão do universo” (Darkness! Light! The explosion of the universe).

Império da Tijuca of the Serie A group performing in Rio's Carnival 2015, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News
Império da Tijuca of the Serie A group performing in Rio’s Carnival 2015, photo by Raphael David/Riotur.

This year, lead by Carnavalesco Max Lopes, the school will present the theme; “O Alabê de Jerusalém: A Saga de Ogundana” (The Alabê of Jerusalem: The Saga of Ogundana).

Renascer de Jacarepaguá – Another school representing the West Zone of Rio, Renascer was founded in Jacarepaguá in 1992.

Due to the construction of the Transcarioca, Renascer de Jacarepaguá had to change their quadra (practical hall) in 2014 and have since relocated.

This year they will also address religion and orixás as they present the theme, “Ibejís – Nas brincadeiras de crianças: Os orixás que viraram santos no Brasil…” (Ibejís- In children’s play: The deities who became saints in Brazil …).

Império da Tijuca – Founded in 1940 in Morro da Formiga in Tijuca, Império da Tijuca was the first school to use the term Imperium in their name and the first school to feature a large crown in their logo as a sign of nobility.

They paraded in the Special Group in 2014 but were demoted to the Série A in 2015 following a controversial decision.

This year they will present the theme; “O tempo ruge, a Sapucaí é grande e o Império aplaude o Felomenal” (Time roars, the Sapucai is great and the Empire applauds the Felomenal).

The second group of seven schools from Série A will parade on February 6th and the Special Group schools will parade for the main championship on February 7th and 8th, with six schools parading each day. The winners of the competition will then be announced on Ash Wednesday, February 10th.

Be sure to stay with The Rio Times to learn more about the competing schools, winners and additional events during this year’s Carnival.

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