Kings, queens and geishas samba at Rio Carnival

Brazil’s Carnival parades got off to a majestic start on Sunday night as dancers dressed as monarchs, courtiers and even roast pheasants at a royal feast shimmied their way through Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome.

Honouring the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Brazil, which made Rio an imperial capital, the 4 200-strong São Clemente samba group’s lavish floats represented the riches and cultural heritage brought to the former colony by the Portuguese.

Beauty queens wearing little more than plumed headdresses gyrated on top of giant floats as singers chanted ”The kingdom has moved, my Rio has bloomed” to the beat of samba drums.

As Viviane Castro, a 25-year-old model and dancer, was preparing to step onto the parade strip, an assistant was gluing a tiny piece of glitter between her legs — her only vestment for the night aside from high-heeled shoes.

”I feel super carefree about being nude. Carnival is a lot of joy, you just don’t think about other stuff,” the stunning brunette told Reuters.

One float represented an imperial dinner where meals and even cutlery danced.

”I flew all the way from Australia and it’s fantastic, awesome. You have to know the song though. Next time I’ll learn it by heart,” said Grace Kelly (34) from Sydney, still out of breath after over an hour of non-stop samba.

Although the street parties where revellers drink and dance day and night are the heart of Rio’s Carnival, the extravaganza in the Sambadrome stadium on Sunday and Monday nights is the highlight of the celebrations.

Each of the 12 samba groups marches for about 75 minutes, marked by judges in a competition for the champions’ crown.

Melting pot

Homage to foreign influence in the melting pot of races that is Brazil continued when the second samba school, Porto da Pedra, marched to commemorate 100 years since the first Japanese immigrants arrived.

Symbolising their integration, dozens of dancing women dressed as Japanese geishas transformed, with a move of a folding fan, into the likeness of cult Brazilian actress and singer Carmen Miranda, who became a Hollywood star in the 1940s.

The school’s beauty queen Angela Bismarchi — known as the the queen of plastic surgery because her many alterations — had her eyes operated on before Carnival to make her look more Japanese. She wore an outsized geisha wig, a black plume and not much else.

Dancers with model trays of sushi on their shoulders or dressed as Japanese Maneki-Neko lucky cat charms followed.

”The heart starts beating much faster. I loved it, it’s a shame it was over so fast,” said Alessandra Couto (36) an engineer from Rio who paraded for the first time.

City authorities expect more than 700 000 tourists in Rio for the five days of Carnival, which ends on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, revellers danced and sang at dozens of street parties across the city and even lashing rain failed to dampen their spirits.

Dressed as devils, brides, magicians or simply wearing silly hats, they drank beer and sang traditional Carnival tunes as romance hung in the air.

”This rain is nothing. Yesterday we were in a street party where they were spraying people from a water hose truck. Now that was fun!” said Claudia Nogueira (25) who was dressed as a nurse with white lingerie showing from her robe.

The police presence was heavy in the city centre, allaying concerns about a police strike after senior commanders had offered to quit or were dismissed over demands for higher pay and better working conditions.

Rio is one of Latin America’s most violent cities. But Carnival — a big source of tourism revenue — is always safeguarded by thousands of police and outbreaks of violent crime are rare during the festivities.

Much of the violence is related to drug trafficking in the slums, or favelas. Weeks before Carnival, police investigated one of the most popular samba schools, Mangueira, over allegations it was sponsored by a drug kingpin. – Reuters

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