It is 11 pm on Thursday night and I’m in a warehouse somewhere in the outskirts of São Paulo. It is a hangar owned by a local samba school, used for storing huge ornaments and other shiny things for this year’s Carnival.
The floor of the hall is covered in thick ash and glitter from hundreds of decorations. Some of the pillars in the hall have been used as target practice, forming abstract pieces of art. In front of me, a 5-meter tall female torso dressed for cocktail party is lying on the ground. Behind her a shiny silver-plated eagle is staring at the people working with last-minute adjustments.
The first drums of São Paulo Carnaval start beating in 24 hours. The guy responsible for the fantasias (samba costumes) was supposed to be here two hours ago and the crowd of 20 dancers are anxiously waiting for trying on their costumes. One of them is Rafaelle.
She participated in a contest where the participants had to play the Brazilian actress Cláudia Raia. She won the contest among with four other girls. Now the group gets to portrait the actress in this year’s parade.
It isn’t Rafaelle’s first time dancing in a parade. In 2010, she was even crowned the Samba Princess of Florianópolis in her home state of Santa Catarina. Still, representing a samba school in one of the biggest parades in the world is something else.
It is kind of a big deal to dance in the parade, especially on top of one of the decorated cars. Some people are even willing to pay the samba schools over R$6.000 (around 1500$) to dance on the highest podiums.
After two and half hours of waiting, the guy finally shows up. Casually and with no rush, he starts grouping the dancers by the cars they’ll be dancing on. Finally, Rafaelle tries on her costume and with the help of one of the volunteers from the samba school, they start building up the costume one prop after another.
There’s hustle and bustle. An old boombox is shrieking samba 200 beats per minute. People are running across the hall and shouting orders while the others are navigating the cars out of the hangar. Five meter high film rolls are still unattached and most of the cars are still bare, like skeletons without flesh and muscles.
I have no clue how they are gonna pull this off by tomorrow night.
Rafaelle is ready. She was one of the first to try on her costume tonight. The dancers still waiting on the line will have a long night ahead of them. There is only one lady volunteering and helping out with the complex costumes. Poor her. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days.
It is time to go home. We cross the smelly river of Tietê (more like a sewer) and I take a last look at the warehouse. The lights stay on. Traffic around the area is totally halted. The samba school volunteers are now moving the car with the legless lady to the other side of the street.
I wonder how these people stay awake. Maybe it’s the samba.