Mon, Feb 27, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Rio kicks-off Carnival samba parade

AP , RIO DE JANEIRO

A member of the samba school Beija Flor gives the finishing touches to a float last Wednesday in a workshop at the Samba City in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The 14 main samba schools will parade at the Sambodrome during Rio's world-famous Carnival today and tomorrow.

PHOTO: AFP

All eyes are on the Humming Bird as Rio kicks-off its samba parade, the crown jewel of a world-famous Carnival bash, which started yesterday evening amid thundering fireworks and pounding drums.

The samba group Beija Flor -- Portuguese for Humming Bird -- is vying for a rare fourth consecutive Carnival championship, looking to wow judges with its precision parading and extravagant costumes and floats.

Belying its reputation as a chaotic free-for-all, Carnival is the result of months of hard work and painstaking organization.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at the samba parade, where over the course of two evenings Rio's 14 top-tier samba groups will present 80-minute parades, the culmination of months of planning and some US$2 million in spending per group.

"We're prepared to win," said Fran Sergio, a member of the five-man committee responsible for designing Beija Flor's parade.

"We have all the details worked out," he said.

Coordinating the parade is a gargantuan task. Thousands of dancers must be outfitted, with some in elaborate costumes and others wearing almost nothing at all.

Then there's the hundreds-strong drum corps that needs to rehearse to perfection, and all of them have to be taught to dance their way through the 700m Sambadrome stadium in the allotted 80 minutes.

A panel of 40 judges grades each group, or "school," in categories ranging from music and lyrics to costume design and how evenly the dancers move through the stadium. Even the response from the 70,000 capacity crowd is rated.

The loss of even a tenth of a point can doom a group's chances of victory.

"You need a lot of spirit and that's what we have more than anyone else, because everyone here is from the community," said Rogerio Sued, Beija Flor's vice president in charge of finance.

Since August, Beija Flor has been rehearsing its routine -- which pays homage to the resort town of Poco de Caldas -- three times a week at a large, warehouse-like space on the outskirts of Rio.

Sergio takes pride in the group's discipline.

"For other groups, rehearsals are just a chance to make some money, for people to meet and make out," he said. "Here, we really rehearse."

Beija Flor marches thousands of paraders around and around the overcrowded space for several hours. The dancers are choreographed to perfection and shimmy in unison.

And Beija Flor doesn't sell its costumes to outsiders, ruling out the possibility of a poorly dancing tourist joining in and mucking up the works.

All the planning has paid off in recent years. Beija Flor has won three straight championships and nine total.

"Theirs is a style of carnival that just repeats itself every year," said Max Lopes, the parade designer for the traditional Mangueira samba school.

"In terms of organization they are very good, and they're always a potential winner because they have a lot of money behind them,"he said.

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