Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu

The maxim ‘one’s garbage is other one’s luxury’ seems to have been specially created for Brazilian carnival. Materials used in luxurious parades in one certain year make the joy of poorer samba associations a year later. And there are samba schools that, besides being champions in recycling, also make an impression on the strict judges.

Believe it: the work of people involved in carnival parades at Marquês de Sapucaí, in Rio de Janeiro, is far from ending right after samba schools cross the last gate of the avenue. By the end of the parade, it’s time to dismount allegories and undress costumes, to sort out what can be reused in next year’s carnival. It’s only after Ash Wednesday that the most intensive recycling and disposal activity begins in the samba sheds, at the City of Samba, where are installed samba schools from the Special Group of carioca carnival.

Chassis and engines are often reused, since they have a long service life. As to the impressive huge floats which cross the Sambódromo during the days of revelry, they go back to their origins, reduced to mere iron carcasses on wheels. Ironware and woods used as framework for the floats can either be redesigned and transformed into new allegories or donated to samba schools in the Access Group. Plumes, feathers and more expensive fake stones also join the list of recyclables. Even so, near 70% of the material employed to build a parade plot [enredo] is disposed of from one year to the next. Only 30% are reused, transformed, sold or donated.

Gears, towers and ‘cheeses’ are reutilized by the samba school itself in next year’s carnival. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu.
The stock of recycled materials from other carnival parades, such as plumes, feathers, fake stones and part of the fabric becomes empty when there is no sponsorship for the parade. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu.

The dismounting work of the allegories begins about two weeks after the Champions’ Parade. It’s time to sort out and store everything that can be reused by the school itself. Among wealthier associations in Special Group, it is unusual to reutilize props and floats or unsew the costumes returned by the revelers who paraded, for reuse. The exception are the raw materials of higher value, such as plumes and feathers, which are usually boxed in the sheds’ deposits.

Next step is to open the shed to be visited by other samba schools, generally those less ranked or those from other cities, so that they can buy the discarded materials and use them to build another carnival. The items that remain are usually donated to sister schools and other carnival “blocos” with less resources. Even the children’s group from the own samba association can reuse what has been used by the school’s main group.


Carnival of luxury and wealth

Salgueiro, vice-champion of the Special Group of this year’s carioca carnival, traditionally invests in huge and luxurious allegories, but admits that few of it will come back to the avenue next year. An example are the large metal structures, like towers and ‘cheeses’ where revelers who are the main attractions of the school are placed during the parade. These frames are cut to be reused in coming years. “As carnival is made of novelty, and each must be new, unknown and unpublished , we save little money, around 10% of the entire amount spent. Our parade designers, Renato and Márcia Lage, create and design the plot, and then we see what we have in store and what can be reused”, says Salgueiro’s director of carnival, Dudu Azevedo.

For many years, the school has been selling part of the materials used in the parades. This year, one particular samba school showed interest to buy the entire Diamond Car, part of 2015’s theme, about the cuisine from Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. However, since 2009, Salgueiro donates parts of the floats, props, costumes and sculptures to up to eight samba schools, some from the capital, others from Cabo Frio and Nova Friburgo, in the countryside of the state of Rio de Janeiro, some from other states. “We donate the materials that remain in the floats after the parades, because these schools don’t have the resources we do to finance carnival. This helps us too, because we would not have anything to do with all that’s left. It would occupy too much space in the shed”, stresses Azevedo.


Carnival of short money

Reality for a samba school in the Access Group is so different from that of the wealthier ones, that winning a carnival parade and reaching the Special Group is enough to make the school increase discarding and reduce recycling. The A series champion of carioca carnival in 2015, with a plot about Rio’s 450th anniversary, Estácio de Sá, started March leaving behind most of what it had taken to the avenue this year. Recognized by Brazilian National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) as the first samba school of Brazil, the association, which is named after the city’s founder, had been far from belonging to the samba elite for nine years.

“It’s a change of position. One cannot parade in the Special Group with what we utilized to win the A Series. It’s another level”, explains Estácio’s director of carnival, Roni Jorge Costa. What allows a further step, he says, is the availability of resources to make a parade among the biggest carnival associations of Rio. Installed in a modest shed in the neighborhood of Gamboa, he celebrates: “We will move to a shed in the City of Samba, and money there is bigger.”

Back to the Special Group, director of carnival of Estácio de Sá, Roni Jorge Costa, says the school increased discarding and reduced recycling. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu.

However, being among samba experts doesn’t mean easy money coming in, to take a good parade to Marquês de Sapucaí. The history of Acadêmicos da Grande Rio in the preparations for 2015 carnival shows that even the big and better ranked samba schools sometimes need to substitute money for creativity. Without sponsorship to design its plot about card games, and with few resources, it was necessary to intensify reuse of materials and utilize almost everything there was in the warehouse.

It worked: Grande Rio won third place in the Special Group contest. “This year was a milestone for the school, for we’ve had a more careful look into the waste issue, because of the lack of money”, assesses Camila Soares, special projects consultant and president of the children’s samba school, Pimpolhos da Grande Rio, which historically raised the flag of recycling, “Samba schools that have a budget are more at home to start from zero. But I think, with world crisis and the difficulty of getting sponsorship, reutilizing materials seems more and more necessary for the survival of carnival”, she says.

With a plot about card games, Grande Rio did not get sponsorship and needed to recycle former year’s float truck that opened the parade. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu.

Ash Wednesday without tearing the costumes

Observing difficulties faced by Grande Rio was going through, carnival parade designer Fábio Ricardo was one of the first to join the concept of ‘economic carnival’, and built the new plot with an eye in the materials already in stock. To make costumes, allegories and props, Ricardo searched for cheaper materials, such as acetate, which gives color and shine to the garments. The school didn’t buy feathers and plumes and used only the ones stocked in former years. The float truck that opens the parade and the gipsy float were recycled from 2014 carnival, when the school presented the plot Verdes olhos de Maysa sobre o mar, no caminho: Maricá [Green eyes of Maysa over the sea, in the way: Maricá]. With little money in hand, the school replaced more expensive materials for carpets to make the cover of the “gipsy’s tent”.

The modest construction of the plot did not prevent the judges from enjoying what they watched. From a total of 30 points, the judges gave 29,8 for Costumes item and 29,7 for Allegories and Props. “It was a carnival parade focused in saving. The judges acknowledged Fábio Ricardo’s creativity and not necessarily the luxury of carnival”, says Camila.

In Grande Rio, the gipsy car was covered with carpets, replacing more expensive raw materials. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu

As to trading with other schools, Grande Rio’s consultant tells that some sculptures, tripods and even floats are sold in full. That’s what happened to an old float used back in 2013, when the school had the theme ‘petroleum’ for the plot. A school from the city of Campos de Goytacazes, up in the North of Rio State, bought the allegory and presented the same plot in next year’s local parade. “The money raised with these sales is not enough to reinvest in other carnival parade, but helps to maintain the sheds, to pay the workers and the bills”, she adds.

For Pimpolhos da Grande Rio, which Camila presides, recycling is a permanent plot. The children’s school receives many donations from Grande Rio, avoids wasting and reuses from wireframes to garments and costumes, to redesign parade items for the children.

After nine years in the Access Group, Leão da Estácio de Sá is back to the carioca samba elite. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu.

Back to samba elite

In Estácio de Sá, almost one decade away from carnival elite, donations from other associations helped school to deal with lack of resources. During this period apart, the school from this neighborhood, considered the ‘cradle of carioca samba’ reutilized materials such as wood and ironware from wealthier associations, together with the remains of former years. Still, Estácio didn’t fail to assist schools from B, C and D series and Group 2, which parade at Intendente Magalhães Avenue, in Rio’s suburbs, with donations of costumes, ironware, wire and other items taken from the allegories.

“We had a lot of help during the period we were away from the Special Group. We reused and modified sculptures we had bought and also got donations. We know that any kind of help to the lower groups’ schools is welcome”, stresses parade designer Amauri Santos, almost an expert in making carnival with short resources. Even with little money, he, together with parade designer Tarcísio Zanon, scored 299,7 points in 2015 parade and earned a place in the Special Group.

With little resources and a lot of creativity, Amauri Santos and Tarcísio Zanon took Estácio de Sá back to the elite of carioca carnival. Photos by Cacalos Garrastazu.

Santos started signing samba school’s parades in União do Parque Curicica, which this year remained in the 12th place in A series. Between 2009 and 2011, he was vice-champion twice and won the third place once. “The creativity of the parade designer has to be greater in the lower groups’ schools, because there are no resources to make a luxurious carnival parade. So we use cheaper or recycled materials, transformed into allegories, props and costumes”, he says.

Since the beginning of March, Estácio de Sá started dismounting its floats and thinking about 2016 carnival, now in the Special Group. Photos by Cacalos Garrastazu.

He explains that, many times, associations from the lower series develop a plot similar to that of the school from which they received donations, in order to have a larger rate of reutilization. Santos recalls that once, when he was ahead of Curicica, he called the audience’s attention with a float made of paperboard and painted beer cans which, in the end, turned into a favela.

“The audience enjoys seeing a good carnival parade. Estácio de Sá showed it’s possible to make a cheap yet glamorous parade, even with short resources and a lot of recycling”, summarizes the parade designer.

Only 30% of the material used in carnival parades is reused by the samba schools. Photo by Cacalos Garrastazu.

This story was written by journalist Thaise Constancio, with text edition by journalists Andréia Lago and Dimalice Nunes, photos and image edition by Cacalos Garrastazu and graphic design by Juliana Karpinski.
Translation to English by Deborah Dornellas.

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