By Vânia Maciel, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For many, Carnival 2011 remains in the distant horizon, anticipated with longing and excitement. For the event’s organizers though, it is already time to turn up the pressure and jump into high gear with preparations for the March celebration.

Sambódromo, Rio de Janeiro
The Apoteose square at the Sambódromo, photo by Fernando Stankuns/Flickr Creative Commons License.

By now the line up and parading order of nearly all of Rio’s 76 samba schools are decided. Talent judges are being chosen and samba school parade tickets are already on sale both in Rio and abroad. Already ticket prices to watch the main parade fluctuate between R$180 per person (only for Brazilian tourists) to a staggering R$5,800 for a six-person box.

In fact, the opulent samba school parade taking over the Sapucaí (the Sambódromo is located on Av. Sapucaí) during carnival is a fierce competition, where the winner gets the big cash prize and the last contestant is demoted, and, in the case of the Grupo Especial, the demoted also get stripped of their right to have its Barracão (the industrial carnival workshop) in the government’s purpose-built Cidade do Samba.

Parading samba schools are judged in ten different performance categories based on their musicality, visual quality, the social integration of revelers, timing, and also quality of story telling. Combined, these define their position within the competition, and consequently their final placement in Rio’s samba school pantheon, culminating in one of the most spectacular shows on Earth.

Pre-requisites counting towards the final score are the Bateria – measuring the performance of the drum ensemble – and Samba enredo (theme tune), the quality of lyrics, music and its integration with the overall plot tune.

Salgueiro 2010
Harry Potter float in Salgueiro's Histórias sem Fim (endless stories) parade in 2010, photo by Juliana Coutinho/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Harmony considers how well a samba school sings its theme tune, Evolution judges paraders cohesion, enthusiasm, and fluency during presentation, Enredo (plot theme) is the quality and creativity of the plot theme and how it is scripted and developed during procession and Conjunto (grouping) measures the uniformity of all different performance types together.

Fantasia (costume), Alegoria (allegories and props), and finally the performances of the Mestre-sala and Porta-bandeira (room master and flag carrier) and Comissão de Frente (frontal committee) are also evaluated.

The samba schools are arranged into six groups, the main being the Grupo Especial (special group) also known as the Champions Group, composed of twelve samba schools, and parading on Carnival’s Sunday and Monday on the Sapucaí.

The remaining, in descending order of importance, are Group A or access group and Group B, which also parade in the Sambódromo during Carnival Saturday and Tuesday respectively. Groups C, D and E, parading on Estrada Intendente Magalhães in Valqueire, in Rio’s North Zone make up the full samba school itinerary.

Thus whilst the schools in Grupo Especial dispute the title of Carnival Champion and try to keep their top-group ranking, the remainder are competing for pole position to advance a group, and some just dreaming of one day maybe to parade on the Sapucaí.

São Clemente samba school
São Clemente samba school parading this year in the Sambódromo, photo by Ednei West/Flickr Creative Commons License.

This year, São Clemente samba school with the unusual plot theme ‘Choque de ordem na folia’ based upon the Mayor of Rio’s clean-up policies, won Group A’s first prize and returned to the Grupo Especial. At the other end of the spectrum the Unidos do Viraradouro were demoted after twenty years among the crème de la crème of Carioca carnival.

In 2011 the Grupo Especial line up sees (in order of procession), São Clemente, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel, Unidos da Tijuca, Unidos de Vila Isabel, and Mangueira on Sunday, March 6th and União da Ilha, Salgueiro, Portela, Grande Rio, Porto da Pedra and Beija-flor on Monday, March 7th.


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