‘Everyone jumping, everyone happy’: Rio celebrates carnival

RIO DE JANEIRO  -   Glistening with sequins and sweat and shimmying to sultry samba beats, thousands of performers danced their way down a Rio de Janeiro avenue Sunday in the Brazilian beach city’s famed carnival parades. With whimsical floats, thundering drum sections and legions of performers in fanciful, fleshflaunting costumes, 12 samba schools are competing for the coveted title of carnival champions across two nights of epic booty shaking. Entering the parade venue “gives me goosebumps every time,” said Debora Moraes de Souza, a 53-year-old doctor who grew up in the impoverished neighborhood of Sao Goncalo and has been parading for a decade with its samba school, Porto da Pedra. “You get to the end and you say, ‘Oh, it’s over already? I want more!’ Everyone’s jumping, everyone’s happy.” Sunday’s and Monday’s parades are the climax: sumptuous festivals of color and sound that last all night and into the next day. A capacity crowd of 70,000 spectators cheered from the packed stands of the Sambadrome stadium, the city’s purpose-built parade venue, with millions more expected to watch live on TV. But there is more to carnival than all-night partying. The samba schools are rooted in Rio’s impoverished favela neighborhoods, and each parade tells a story, often dealing with politics, social issues and history. This year’s parades include homages to little-known heroes of Afro-Brazilian history and a celebration of the Yanomami Indigenous people, who have been ravaged by a humanitarian crisis blamed on illegal gold mining in the Amazon. The school behind that parade, Salgueiro, linked the plight of the world’s biggest rainforest to the fight against climate change, in which the Amazon’s carbon-absorbing trees play a vital role. “We’re here to show everyone what’s happening in the Amazon,” said dancer Kevin Rodriguis, 22, after being extracted from atop his float by a crane at the end of the parade. “The Yanomami are in crisis, there’s lots of deforestation, people and animals are dying, trees are being burned.” Each samba school has 60 to 70 minutes to dazzle its way down the 700 meters of Marques de Sapucai, the avenue through the concrete carnival parade temple designed by modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer. A jury judges each down to the minutest detail, with potentially devastating fractions of points deducted for being out of sync, running over time or lacking flair. Porto da Pedra was set to lose precious points after suffering a pair of float mishaps -- not uncommon at the parades. In one, a piece of a float broke right in front of the jury.

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