Rio annual carnival has kicked off in Brazil, but the parades and street parties have a sombre tinge coming after a nightclub fire that killed 238 people.
Mourning rituals continued as the mayor of Rio de Janeiro handed over the keys of the city to carnival ceremonial figurehead King Momo.
President Dilma Rousseff attended a memorial Mass for the fire victims at Brasilia’s cathedral on Thursday night.
She is not taking part in the five-day party, spending it in Bahia state.
More than 60 casualties of the inferno remain in hospital, and many cities – particularly near the southern city of Santa Maria where the fire happened – have scaled down their festivities as a result.
For Brazil, Rio Carnival 2013 is an important test of the city’s infrastructure ahead of the big sporting events lined up for the future, including the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
Streets in Rio, where festivities kick off on Saturday, were already crowded on Friday with thousands of people, following more spontaneous street parades.
This year, more than 700 processions will make their way through various parts of the city, with US actress Megan Fox among the international celebrities expected to take part.
Rio annual carnival has kicked off in Brazil, but the parades and street parties have a sombre tinge coming after a nightclub fire that killed 238 people
The carnival is set to draw 1.1 million tourists to Rio, generating some $650 million for the local economy. Hotels and restaurants are booked almost to capacity.
South Korean pop phenomenon PSY – whose trademark Gangnam Style dance mimicking trotting on a horse, holding the reins and spinning a lasso has made him a household name – will perform during the street parties in Brazil’s third largest city, Salvador.
Last year, the Cordao da Bola Preta, one of Rio’s oldest and most popular carnival street parties, attracted 2.2 million revellers – the largest crowd in its 93-year history.
From Sunday, Samba schools compete with each other at spectacular parades in special stadiums known as sambadromes – with elaborately decorated floats and dancers wearing multicolored costumes often adorned with large feathers.
Brazilian carnival dancers invaded the stage in the final section of the closing ceremony last night to symbolize the handover from London 2012 to Rio 2016.
It started with some samba street dance and ended with football legend Pele – London bid farewell to the Olympic Games with an unmistakable Brazilian twist.
There were fears the stunning display would have to be toned down over concerns about the dancers’ revealing outfits.
Officials were worried that the performers in the Rio carnival-themed section were too skimpily dressed.
At one stage they asked the dancers to ‘tone down’ their outfits for fear they might offend the family audience.
Brazilian carnival dancers invaded the stage in the final section of the closing ceremony last night to symbolize the handover from London 2012 to Rio 2016
The Brazilian choreographers are thought to have protested, insisting the dancers’ outfits were an accurate portrayal of traditional carnival clothes.
The colorful segment which closed the ceremony – featuring supermodel Allesandra Ambrosio and popstar Marisa Monte – was based on the Brazilian concept of the “Carioca” embrace.
“Carioca” is the name given to a person from Rio, and the Carioca embrace- a traditional greeting in the city- was used to symbolize the warm welcome with which Rio wants to greet the rest of the world in 2016.
The segment began with a street cleaner called Renato Sorriso – who became an internet hit after video of him performing an impromptu routine during a carnival in Brazil in 2009 was recorded and uploaded to youtube – practicing his samba steps. A security guard attempted to remove him, but was disarmed by a Carioca embrace of friendship.
Moments later a colorful parade of dancers- representing the world famous annual Carnival held in the city – exploded onto the stage.
And in a spectacular entrance, Brazilian pop singer Marisa Monte glided into the arena in a giant blue gown.
Marisa Monte – who has sold 10 million albums worldwide and is considered one of the great figures of modern Brazilian music- was intended to represent the Brazilian sea goddess Yamanja, who is celebrated every year in a huge New Years’ Eve party on the beach of Copacabana.
She performed a classical music piece with indigenous South American rhythms as well as the pop song “Maracatu Atomico” by Brazilian rapper BNegao.
This was followed by the appearance of actor-singer Seu Jorge among an acrobatic performance by traditional Brazilian Capoeira fighters.
Jorge- a Brazilian pop samba artist – was wearing a suit designed to represent the “malandros” – famous dandy characters of 1940s Lapa, a neighborhood in Rio de Janero.
The procession of the fighters, interspersed with dancing couples, was intended to symbolize the movement of a lively Copacabana pavement.
Among the couples was 31-year-old Brazilian supermodel Allesandra Ambrosio, most famous for modelling Victoria’s Secret lingerie.
Her appearance will surprise few in Brazil as she had been tweeting about it all day and even posted pictures of herself arriving in the Olympic park by bus.
The section ended as the entire cast united in a Carioca embrace in front of a vista of Rio’s unique skyline, while the Rio 2016 logo appeared on the stage.
Rio 2016 will be the first ever Olympic games hosted by a South American country.
Organizers said the handover was intended to celebrate Rio’s “contagious mix of cultures.”