- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RIO DE JANEIRO(AFP) — The last of Rio’s big parades ended early yesterday, capping carnival celebrations that have cemented the country’s reputation as one of the top party destinations in the world.

Extravagant floats accompanied by dancing armies and tanned beauties captivated the city right up to dawn in the second and final night of the famous processions.

Six samba schools presented dreamlike allegorical scenes as they competed to be named the best and most imaginative group during this year’s pre-Lent celebrations.

More than 70,000 people crowded into stands in the Sambadrome in a poor northern neighborhood of Rio to watch the spectacle, billed as the greatest show in the world.

The parades were the high point of Brazil’s five-day carnival, and the rest of yesterday was destined to be a recovery period before the country goes back to work today, Ash Wednesday.

The schools performing went overboard in paying tribute to Brazil’s natural riches, ethnic mixes and, in the case of two of the entries, its historical ties to one-time colonial master Portugal.

A flood of dancers dressed as courtiers or vegetation or animals burst forth on the more than 700-yard runway for the occasion, accompanied by huge, elaborate floats that symbolized key moments in Brazil’s past or its mythology.

Among them was a green giant’s head blowing smoke from his nose and mouth, a massive snake, and a fish the size of a whale.

There also was a truckload of renaissance painters and sculptures and a galleon carrying a French cast right out of “Les Miserables” that evoked a Napoleonic-era invasion of Portugal.

The schools were competing to be seen as having put on the best show of this carnival. Last year’s winner, Beija-Flor, provided the finale with a colorful homage to legends from the north of the country.

Sexy dancers, as is traditional, accompanied each of the floats. One school, Vila Isabel, even had topless maidens bathing and giggling under an artificial waterfall in one of its numbers.

Another, Grande Rio, added a twist to the sight of women in G-strings and feathers by putting a pregnant actress, Fernanda Lima, in that get-up when it took to the runway.

The most memorable procession of all the parades, however, was the one that closed the first of the parades on Monday night.

Unidos do Viradouro did its best to jolt the audience with scenes meant to elicit fear and disgust.

Jigging cockroaches, dancers dangling their “heads,” and rows of Edward Scissorhands and creatures from the film “Alien” filled its show.

There also were scuttling black spiders, jack-in-the-box coffins and a float from which a giant baby dangled headfirst, bloodied and with an umbilical cord attached.

But it was the school’s last float that grabbed the most attention.

It had a silent and motionless group of people wearing gags over their mouths.

That was a replacement platform for a planned float banned by a judge last week that would have depicted Holocaust victims under a dancing Hitler.

The school said the modified float was a protest against the judge’s decision, made at the urging of a Rio Jewish group.

“The summary prohibition of artistic expression is the first step toward the precipice: the burning of books, film censorship, the destruction of allegories,” it said in a statement.

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