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Friday, April 20, 2007

More than a Spectator Sport

If anyone were to ask what makes Trinidad’s Carnival unique to Rio my first response would have been that it is more than just a spectator sport; anyone can purchase a costume from the many bands that take part in Carnival and experience being immersed in our culture for two days of revelry on the streets. Whereas in Rio their Carnival parade is a competition among samba schools and the privilege of wearing a costume is only for members of the samba schools. Well, imagine my surprise when I was browsing a website for Rio Carnival that partyc had pointed out, and no, I was not astonished by the fact that the website is already updated with Carnival 2008 information but by the fact that a visitor to Rio for Carnival can now purchase a costume and be part of the parade!

The Rio Carnival Guide website details how this is done:
You can also participate and do not have to only watch the Rio Carnival Samba Parade. Get a 2008 Rio Carnival costume and have the experience of a life-time, parade yourself in the Sambodromo. This is the real thrill, an unparalleled experience - to parade in a beautiful costume, to the heartbreaking beats of samba, on the biggest "stage" in the world. People who "just" watch the parade say it is a definite must once in a lifetime. People who parade want to do it every year!
And if you think the choice of costume is only limited to the “backline” or ground wing costumes as they care called, they are now offering the option to be ON the float in one of the spectacular Samba girl costumes:
On top of a float - We can also organize you a place on a float, on one of those richly decorated cars with a few dancers in some special, most lavish costumes. In order to be considered for a place on a float you do not have to do anything just send us some recent photos preferably in bikinis or swimming trunks. Then we will discuss with one of the major Samba Schools whether they will give you a position. If they do, we will send you the invoice for your payment.
The price for this once in a lifetime experience:
Costs of Parade Participation with costume

Ground wing: US$289.00
On top of a float: US$589.00 - for those who want to be the star in the limelight
Price includes everything: your parading, the organization (help with your preparations, the liaison with the school and the president of the particular wing in which you will be and all necessary instructions), your costume and delivery. No additional taxes, fees or charges.
You will not need to do anything else just go to the Parade with your costume as you will know everything what to do by then through our information materials sent to you.

You have to buy a separate ticket to watch the Parade.
Now, this makes the whole concept of Rio Carnival that I had in my mind before totally change and I will be quite honest in saying that I would LOVE to participate in their Carnival one day just for the experience. Prior to this knowledge of Carnival participation it did not make sense to me to journey all the way to Brazil to merely sit in the stands and take in the show when I enjoy taking part in Carnival so much. It makes me wonder why their policy has changed and if it is that they are taking a page from our book, shattering the preconceived notions about the exclusivity of their Carnival and thus making it an all-encompassing experience! The costume prices are certainly affordable, even for those lavish frontline costumes!

It is a fascinating read about Rio Carnival which illustrates the differences between their Carnival and ours:

The Rio Carnival Parade is not a street carnival where people move chaotically about as they like but more of a highly orchestrated show of vast proportions. Every parader has a specific role and place according to his costume in a particular wing of a particular section of the samba school he is parading in support of.

Each year each school chooses a different theme for the Samba Parade. It can be celebrating a particular period or some famous figures of the Brazilian history, highlight a special event or talk about anything really what might move the spirit and imagination; like a special animal or one of the elements, like water or fire, etc. The school has to illustrate the chosen theme through all its work - the samba tunes, especially written for that year's theme, the richly decorated floats and the costumes of their 3,000 to 5,000 parading members designed by the school's Carnavalesco (carnival designer).

The parade of every school is highly organized and designed. They line up in a unique way to present their pageant. The schools are divided into a number of sections and each section has a number of wings of about 100 people wearing the same costume. Sometimes even 2 wings (ca 200 people) have the same costume design. You will find more info about the role and name of some special sections on the other side of this page.

In between the wings, there are huge floats. Most of them are pushed along by men from the community but some are motorized and have mechanical parts. The floats carry some special guests on top along with some young and beautiful samba dancers in very elaborate, feather-rich costumes.
So if , like me, you always thought that Rio Carnival was a beautiful affair but so much different from Trinidad's Carnival especially when it comes to parading in costume, it is quite enlightening to realise that both Carnivals have evolved into having more similarities than differences. Our designers have long been "borrowing" ideas from Brazil, you need only to look at the frontline costumes of several of the popular large Bands to see that strong Brazilian influence in the plume and baubled scantily clad masqueraders. And now it seems that Rio, like Trinidad, is offering anyone with the inclination and money the chance to be part of the parade. Upon completion of the National Carnival and Arts Centre, which some have likened to the Samabadromo, Trinidad will be one step closer to emulating Rio in putting on a "show" for seated guests in the confines of a venue rather than on the streets.

If it is one thing I love about our Carnival though, is the freedom, and the fact that it is in essence a street party! That one, singular definition is what identifies our Carnival and which still makes the experience unique. Maybe one day I will journey to Rio and fully participate and enjoy their Carnival but Trinidad's will always be the greatest show on earth to me as it is a show for and by the people!

For much more information on Rio Carnival please visit the website The Rio Carnival Guide where you can read up on costumes, tickets to the samaba parade as well as pursue photos of the Samba Schools Carnival presentations.

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