By Ciara Long, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With 2017’s Carnival celebrations approaching next month, Rio de Janeiro’s samba schools are getting ready to take their places in the Sambódromo. As always the Second League, or Série A, parades will open the competition with the Sambódromo’s first six performances marching through on Friday, February 24th this year.
The parades are a serious competition and the result of a year’s intensive training and rehearsals. Schools competing in the Série A are battling for the chance to progress to the top tier – the Grupo Especial (Special Group) – for next year’s competition, as well as avoiding being moved down to Série B, the league below.
The first group of schools from Serie A will perform on the Friday evening of Carnival, starting from 10PM with Acadêmicos do Sossego. They will be followed by Alegria da Zona Sul, then Unidos do Viradouro, Imperio da Tijuca, Uniao do Parque Curicica, Estacio de Sá, and finally Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz.
Acadêmicos do Sossego was formed in Niterói in 1969, originally as a Carnival bloco but became a competing samba school in 1984. In 2016, they were the Série B champions and climbed back up to Série A this year.
This year, Acadêmicos do Sossego will pay homage to one of Brazil’s most famous actresses with their parade competition entry entitled, ‘Zezé Motta, uma deusa do ébano’ (Zezé Motta, an ebony goddess). The samba school’s performance this year will tell the story of Zezé’s career trajectory and her successes in film, television and theatre.
The next school to perform will be Alegria da Zona Sul. Originating from the communities of Cantagalo, Pavão and Pavãozinho in Copacabana, the samba school formed in 1992 and will be the second school from Série A to perform on the Friday of Carnival 2017.
The school’s 2017 theme will celebrate one of Brazilian Popular Music’s (MBP) most famous voices with their piece ‘Vou festejar … Com Beth Carvalho, a madrinha do samba’ (I’m going to celebrate … with Beth Carvalho, the godmother of samba). Marco Antônio Falleiros is responsible for Alegria da Zona Sul’s choreography this year, which celebrates the singer’s fifty year career.
Another school from across the bay in Niterói, Unidos do Viradouro formed in 1946 and won Niterói’s championships seventeen times before participating in the Carioca parade competitions. Unidos do Viradouro held a place in the Special Group for two decades, before slipping down to Série A in 2011.
For this year’s theme, Unidos do Viradouro’s choreographer Jorge Silveira has created a story based around childhood. ‘E todo menino é um rei’ (and every boy is a king) will invite every boy to take to the throne in his fantasy world, and is the school’s first childhood-based narrative in its 71-year history.
Next to perform will be one of the city’s longest-running samba schools, Império da Tijuca, which first formed in 1940 in Morro da Formiga, Tijuca. The school emphasizes nobility and tradition among its values, with the crown in its gold, green and white flag representing the ‘império’ (empire).
‘O último dos profetas’ (Last of the Prophets), Imperio da Tijuca’s 2017 Carnival entry, will tell the story of John the Baptist, using religious syncretism to blend the tale with the Umbanda tale of Xangô, the god of justice who is also celebrated during winter’s Festa Juninha festivals.
One of the newest schools around, Uniao do Parque Curicica hails from the Zona Oeste (West Zone) neighborhood of Curicica. The school formed in 1993 and did not officially take part in parade competitions until 1998, but has proved to be fierce competition, spending the majority of its time between Série A and the Special Group.
Uniao do Parque Curicica’s 2017 theme will take a turn for nostalgia. With choreography based around the idea of a trunk full of good memories, the samba school will act out games, TV shows, books and songs from childhood days.
Estacio de Sá returns to Série A this year after competing in 2016’s Special Group. One of the most traditional samba schools in Rio de Janeiro, Estacio de Sá was the first samba school to be formally recognized by the National Institute for Artistic and Historical Patrimony (IPHAN).
Estacio de Sá will pay homage to the singer and composer Gonzaguinha in a piece called ‘É, o moleque desceu o São Carlos, pegou um sonho e partiu com a Estácio’ (And, the boy went down São Carlos, got a dream and left with Estácio). The school will tell the story of the artist’s upbringing and his early influences, including his father and Brazilian music icon Luiz Gonzaga.
The final group to perform on the first night of Carnival 2017 will be Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz, who formed in 1959 in the Zona Oeste neighborhood of Santa Cruz. With long-running links to social projects in their local area, this will be the school’s fifth consecutive year competing in Série A.
This year, Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz presents a piece that will tell tales from children’s literature, entitled, ‘Vou levar somente o que couber no bolso e no coração … Uma viagem de sabedoria além da imaginação’ (I will bring only what fits in my pocket and heart … A journey of wisdom beyond imagination).
The second group of schools from Série A will perform in the Sambódromo on the following night, on Saturday, February 25th. Schools from the Grupo Especial will perform on Sunday, February 27th and Monday, February 28th, and the final scores for all participating schools and their group for the next year’s competition will be given on Ash Wednesday.