By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This past Friday, March 1st, and Saturday, March 2nd, a total of thirteen samba schools from Rio’s ‘Grupo de Acesso’ or ‘Série A’ (Access Group) tried their best to compete with each other and against the elements to win a coveted spot in the top-tier Grupo Especial for next year’s Carnival Parade, with plenty of spectacular costumes, songs and ‘carros alegóricos’ (floats).
The parades started on Friday evening, with seven of the thirteen schools taking their ‘samba enredos’ (thematic samba compositions) through a very wet ‘Sambódromo’ (Sambadrome). After the rain caused a delay of half an hour, Unidos da Ponte were the first school to open the proceedings.
This smaller school school joined the Access Group this year, being promoted from ‘Série B’ (League B), but their samba, which was centered around religious offerings, was heavily affected by the rain and failed to live up to the very high standard that the Access Group now boasts.
Their parade was followed by Alegria da Zona Sul, who presented a procession on the theme of the Afro-Brazilian religion Umbanda; and although they put on a better show than Unidos da Ponte, their costumes and props were also hampered by the rainfall.
Acadêmicos da Rocinha followed with a presentation entitled, ‘Uma banana para o preconceito’ (A banana for prejudice), but the first big impact of the night was felt when Acadêmicos de Santa Cruz presented their tribute to Ruth de Souza, the famous Brazilian actress who was the first black woman to perform at the Municipal Theater and to star in a telenovela.
This high-energy presentation put in the first claim for the title, despite the rain still causing problems for all schools. Another top-quality parade followed, courtesy of Unidos de Padre Miguel, who paid tribute to the playwright Dias Gomes, with a visually arresting show.
The samba schools Inocentes de Belford Roxo and Acadêmicos do Sossego also turned-out well. However, it was the weather that took center-stage for this evening of processions, with many problems being experienced by all schools, including damage to costumes and props, as well as malfunctions with the carros alegóricos.
Saturday proved to be luckier for the remaining six schools, with less rain resulting in stronger parades all-round. Another recently promoted school started the proceedings, with Unidos de Bangu presenting a fairly uneven samba enredo on the theme of potatoes.
They were followed by Renascer de Jacarepaguá, who have been steadily rising up the samba school leagues since their formation in 1993. However, they have only broken into Grupo Especial once in 2011. Their beautifully-realized tribute to Iemanjá (water goddess in many Afro-Brazilian religions) will put them in strong standing for a return to the top-tier.
Estácio de Sá then took proceedings to the next level with a definite contender for the title when they presented their spectacular parade centered around the story of the statue ‘Cristo negro do Panamá’ (Black Christ of Panama).
They were followed by Unidos do Porto da Pedra, once a regular fixture of Grupo Esepcial, who came third last year and were looking to better that result with an excellent homage to actor Antônio Pitanga. Império da Tijuca, who won the championship back in 2013, presented a strong but unspectacular samba enredo around the theme of coffee.
Finally, it was the turn of Acadêmicos do Cubango to close the night. The Niterói school, who have only competed in the Rio Carnival Parade since the eighties, put on a competent but not earth-shattering parade centered around faith and miracles.