By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Currently ranked third best over all the Rio samba schools, G.R.E.S Unidos de Vila Isabel is a traditional club with plenty of history. Just over a month away now, rehearsals will be increasing in fervor until the official Carnival parade where the school will be performing at the Sambódromo on February 19th, at 03:30 AM.

Unidos de Vila Isabel performing in Carnival 2011
Unidos de Vila Isabel performing in Carnival 2011, photo by Luiz Fernando Reis/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Like rival samba school Porto da Pedra, Vila Isabel was born as a product of the local football club in Vila Isabel, a district in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) from whence it gets its name. It has adopted the same official colors as the football team, blue and white.

Having cemented itself firmly amongst the crème de la crème in the Grupo Especial (Special Group), and despite being perceived as successful, the club has only won the championship twice.

January 8th marked the first official Carnival parade rehearsals to take place at the Sambódromo and Vila Isabel will no doubt be practicing hard with their 2012 Enredo, (Theme) “Você samba lá … Que eu samba aqui! O canto livre de Angola” meaning “You dance samba there… and I dance samba here! The free chant from Angola”.

Once again enlisting the help of renowned Carnival designer and choreographer Rosa Magalhães, the theme will examine specific African roots which are strongly immersed in Brazilian culture, particularly the samba styles of Angola.

Vila Isabel places a high level of importance on preserving their local community and vice versa. The residents of Vila Isabel all work tirelessly to support the samba school which has distinguished the neighborhood on account of its place in the Carnival competition.

Vila Isabel's parade floats are always bright and colorful like this one from 2011, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, News
Vila Isabel's parade floats are always bright and colorful, photo by sfmission/Flickr Creative Commons License.

Nevertheless, the club has experienced more than its fair share of difficulties over the years. During Carnival 2008 there was a problem with the locomotives of one of the flats which somewhat spoiled the overall effect of the parade.

In 2010, the School found itself embroiled in scandal after its president, Wilson Vieira Alves, was arrested for his questionable involvement in the operation of slot machines. Luckily, his position was taken over by his son Wilsinho who was so well received that he was re-elected for the position in 2011.

The school is known to be selective about who it allows to join. It upholds its vow of not accepting tourists and only initiating those who are engaged in the community to help prepare for Carnival.

Out of all of Vila Isabel’s celebrity supporters, its most famous is undoubtedly Brazilian supermodel and national treasure, Gisele Bündchen. The model even performed on one of the clubs floats at Carnival 2011 for the theme “Hair”.

Model and TV presenter Sabrina Sato has been chosen to represent Vila Isabel for the second time as Rainha da Bateria (Queen of the Drums). In order to prepare for the parade and wow the judges, Sato has enlisted the help of legendary dance choreographer Dandara Machado to help her learn dance moves typical of Angola’s samba traditions.

Speaking to O Globo news station G1, the actress expressed her excitement for the upcoming event, “I can not reveal much, everything is still a secret and I cannot spoil the surprise. But I can say that I want to learn a little dance and want to take the Angolan kuduro to run on the Avenue.”

To lend support to Vila Isabel, watch them rehearse at the Sambódromo on January 22nd, at 10PM and finally on February 3rd, at 8PM. Visit their web site for more information.


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