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Rio de Janeiro’s top samba schools compete in the Sambadrome parades.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL (FEBRUARY 27, 2017) (REUTERS) – With a bright fireworks display lighting up the night sky, Rio’s top samba schools stepped to the beat as they began their renowned parade competition in the Sambadrome.
The energy was high as Tuiuti School started the parade with drums beating and costumes aflutter.
At least one participant was overcome by the heat and weight of the costume, and was quickly whisked away by emergency officials.
The nationally televised annual parades featuring up to 5,000 dancers each and near-naked Carnival queens are a serious competition for the top samba schools, and are judged on choreography, atmosphere, organization and singing, among other points.
Representing a particular neighbourhood, each samba school functions as a social club with dancers and musicians practicing all year to bring their pageantry to the public.
A disorganised wing or a faulty float can cost a school the title and bragging rights over the next year.
Each school has its own colours, a flag and many life-long supporters who eagerly attend rehearsals and watch the night’s show, rooting for their school.
Over 70 samba schools will compete this year during the five-day festival, with schools ranked in the top division competing on Sunday and Monday.
Each school chooses a central theme or story for its entry.
Flavio Rocha of the Calida Samba School explained how his costume fit into the story.
“It represents a passenger arriving as the sun sets and he is going to go to a favela,” he said, referring to the slums that lie on the outskirts of the city.
This year, the Rio Carnival spectacle plays out as Brazil seeks to emerge from a two-year recession, its worst on record, and political volatility that last year led to a presidential impeachment.
With crime sharply up since the city hosted the Olympics last August and the state suffering an intense fiscal crisis, Rio remains deeply indebted and can barely maintain basic services like police, hospitals and schools.
Despite all that, the annual party, as always, goes on.
The festival, whose roots lie in a tradition of carnal indulgence before the austere Catholic season of Lent, officially ends next Wednesday.
Rio de Janeiro expects Carnival to draw more than 1 million visitors and generate about $1 billion for the local economy.