By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Parade of Champions on Saturday evening marked the official end of Rio Carnival 2010. The energy in and around the Sambódromo on Saturday night during the final parade of the winning samba schools was no different from that during the Sunday and Monday shows: Fireworks announced the entrance of each school, parties in the camarotes (private boxes) drew dozens of celebrities and socialites from across Brazil, and the bleachers remained packed until the very end.

One of Salgueiro's stunning floats, representing Brazil's indigenous history, photo by Kate Leahy.

The streets surrounding the Sambódromo were crowded with a variety of vendors, spectators and participants of all ages already in costume. Policemen kept watch from their motorcycles at the entrance where the schools gathered in formation. In front of them, a group of women waited leisurely for their turn to parade, lying on top of their elaborate bahiana costumes that they had strewn in the middle of the street.

The top six schools were selected to parade with their winning performances from Sunday and Monday’s competitions. The order in which the schools paraded was determined by their ranking, with the Grand Champion performing last.

Mangueira opened the show, having been placed sixth in the scoring to the surprise of the public and disappointment of the school’s president, Ivo Meirelles, who insisted that they were judged unfairly. The school’s song, “Mangueira é a música do Brasil,” represented the diversity of music styles from Brazil, but the result was a bad one for the previous winners of seventeen samba parades in its long and celebrated history.

Acadêmicos do Salgueiro, second to be showcased on Saturday, presented a story about the history of the world and Brazil through their song and floats. The lead singer for the samba school, who announced that he had quit Academicos on Ash Wednesday, returned to perform in the parade.

Vila Isabel was the third school to perform having taken fourth place in the rankings, and inspired the crowd with its homage to the poet Noel Rosa. Both the school’s president and percussion master are in disagreement with the scoring and insist that Vila Isabel should have received higher marks.

Another favorite samba school, Beija-Flor paraded fourth, presenting its celebration of the 50th anniversary of Brasilia as the capital city of Brazil after it was transferred from Rio. Beija-Flor was also predictably disappointed with the outcome of the scoring after so much success in recent years, but the school have said they will await the judges’ comments to see where they could have improved.

Dancers on one of Unidos da Tijuca's floats representing the mysteries of humanity, photo by Kate Leahy.

Grande Rio, parading fifth, was one of the most talked-about schools of this year’s samba parades thanks to the now-infamous astronaut who was launched from a float and flew through the air, landing safely a few hundred meters away. The school’s theme this year was the best and most memorable moments of past Carnivals, including one part that paid homage to the fire on a float during the 1992 parade.

The Grand Champions, Unidos da Tijuca, closed the show with a bang, proving that the school was indeed worthy of its unexpected win. Their theme this year was the many mysteries of humanity, including a tribute to Michael Jackson and the dancers leading the parade wore skirts that said “campeã” (champion), instead of “Tijuca”, as had been worn during Carnival.

Similar celebratory details could be found throughout the parade. Fernando Horta, the school’s president, said in a statement that he had been seeking the championship for a long time, and the key to Tijuca’s success was hard work and much dedication: “I knew [Tijuca] would be the champion at some point.”

With Carnival barely over, samba schools are already preparing for next year’s show. Several, including Beija-Flor, Mangueira, Salgueiro, and Acadêmicos da Rocinha, have announced that they already have potential enredos lined up (the chosen theme song for the year). Technical rehearsals, however, will not begin until later this year.


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