It is dubbed the ‘greatest show on Earth’ with thousands of sparkling Brazilian dancers ignoring sweltering heat to put on a spectacular samba parade.
Rio de Janeiro came alive on Sunday night as the city’s carnival hit its peak in a stunning cocktail of glamour, eccentric costumes and pounding samba anthems.
The two-night extravaganza began in the Sambodromo, where 72,000 spectators sat in roasting conditions, with many thousands more milling around outside selling drinks, putting on colourful outfits or simply soaking up the atmosphere because they were unable to get tickets.
But amid the feather headdresses, sparkly G-strings and dancers dressed as everything from trees to Chinese merchants, serious politics marked this year’s parades.
One reveller dressed up as Dracula to represent Brazilian President Michel Temer while a giant backside mocked Rio de Janeiro’s mayor during the unusually politicised event.
Latin America’s biggest country is only just emerging from its worst recession on record. Violent crime in cities like Rio is rocketing, and politics is riddled with corruption and lack of leadership ahead of October presidential elections.
The carnival still claims to be ‘the greatest show on Earth.’ But neither the 13 elite samba schools competing, nor the 72,000 spectators crammed into the Sambodromo are immune to the country’s anger.
One target of that anger overnight Sunday was Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella.
A bishop in the evangelical mega-church founded by his billionaire uncle, Crivella can hardly conceal his disdain for the carnival’s excesses of the flesh ahead of the start of Roman Catholic Lent on Ash Wednesday.
Even though the carnival is a huge revenue earner for the city, Crivella has halved subsidies to the annual bash and refused so much as to attend the Sambodromo parades. In a video released just after the first parades got underway Sunday, the mayor said he was leaving to Europe.
For Paraiso do Tuiuti – one of the 13 schools vying in the epic talent contest – the mayor has declared war.
They replied by putting a large, bare and cellulite-riddled pink backside on one of their floats. Hidden under a temporary covering on the right cheek was Crivella’s name, said organizer Erick Erasmo, 40, just before the school started marching.
‘There’s a heart with Crivella written on it – like you have on a tattoo,’ he said.
‘The bum represents the mayor for cutting our budget, for trying to end our happiness,’ said another organizer, Helton Dias, 28.
Center-right President Michel Temer – said by opinion polls to be the most unpopular president Brazil has ever known – was also taking a ribbing.
Temer came to power in 2016 after leftist president Dilma Rousseff was ejected in an impeachment vote driven by Temer’s close allies. Since then, his government has been rocked by almost continuous corruption scandals, while his push for economic austerity measures has sent popular support plummeting.