Attending the carnival parades can be very confusing. So many colours, ideas, sounds, people, floats. It is easy as a foreign spectator to get overloaded with input. It helps to know how the Schools are being judged competitively; for the more a spectator understands, the easier it is to appreciate the excitement and the tension of the home crowds.
Rio carnival is an entertainment but it is also a rigid sport and the Cariocas in the audience are well aware of what a School has to do to win. Many people attend the parades with score cards ready to fill in their own marks, and most people stay until the last dancer of the last School has finished, so they can decide for themselves who should be this years champion.
The Samba Schools are judged by a commission of specialist judges. Down the course of the Sambódromo, where the parades take place, there are several judging boxes, each containing 10 judges. The judges are kept in isolation, forbidden to speak to anyone else until they have handed in their marks at the end of each evening. They're even escorted to the bathroom by a security guard. Each judge can award between 5 and 10 marks to each School. There are 10 criteria for judgement, each with its own judge in each box.
Some judges have to work harder than others. The judge of the theme has most of his work done before the parade even starts. The judges for Commisao da Frente, Bateria, MS and PB are only allowed to judge when these parts of the parade are immediately in front of them, once their bit has passed they can relax. . But the poor Harmonia, Fantasia, Alegoria, Evolucao and Conjunto judges in Grupo Especial have to keep fully alert for the entirity of each of the six ninety minute parades, from 9pm until at least 4am, two nights running.
The criteria for judgement are;
* Bateria (the drummers)
* Samba enredo (the song)
* Harmonia (harmony, co-ordination and unity)
* Evolucao (spirit of the participants)
* Enredo (the School's theme)
* Conjunto (the overall impression)
* Alegorias e Adereços (Floats and props)
* Fantasias (Costumes)
* Comissão de Frente (Vanguard dancers)
* Mestre-Sala e Porta-Bandeira (Dancing Master and Flag Carrier)
What are the judges looking for?
"How are the different criteria judged"
The bateria (percussion band) should sustain the rhythm of the entire parade (all 3,000 to 5,000 people). The revellers should all be singing and dancing in the rhythm set by the bateria. The judge is looking for the regularity and continuity of the beat, a consistently firm and precise beat from the big surdo drums, the effective disposition of the groups of instruments in the bateria in relation to their effect on the total sound, the perfect balance of the sounds made by the different instruments. The rhythm should be varied and diverse but should be maintained perfectly, especially around the breaks, so that when the bateria goes back into the samba rhythm after a break they should maintain the same speed. This shows the versatility of the bateria. It is forbidden to use wind or brass instruments in the bateria.
The song, which must contain the essence of the central theme which the School is presenting in their parade. It must posess the characteristic style and verse structure of samba enredo. The lyrics must fit the music perfectly, and these words must not be judged like a piece of literature. The lyrics can be descriptive or interpretive, but they must refer to the main ideas within the theme. This is the only category where the judge subdivides his marks, giving some for the lyrics and some for the melody.
This looks at the visual unity of the School's parade, from a musical viewpoint. It judges the general comportment of the School; the perfect synchronism, continuity and melding between the singing and the rhythm, as a musical base for the choreography and dancing of the School's members. The steady continuity between the singing and the rhythm, and the effect of this in the dancing, is the main concern of the Harmonia judge. Marks can be lost through feeble singing. There is a phenomenon known as 'crossing the samba' ("atravessamento do samba" ) which the judges are looking out for particularly, where one group of revellers is singing one part of the lyrics whilst another is singing a different part of the same lyrics.
This is the progress and timing of the dance which must be in harmony with the rhythm of the Samba which the participants are dancing (with the rhythm of the song and the cadence of the bateria). What must be considered is the fluency of the presentation, the spontaneity, creativity, passion, vivacity, agility and vigour of the participants. If clear gaps open up between or within the groups of dancers, penalty points are incurred.
This is the central theme of the parade. It is an artistic creation, in narrative and/ or descriptive written form. The judges must consider, amongst other factors, the strength of the idea, the plan; the steady development of ideas in the various alas of dancers, the floats, groupings etc, so that it should be possible to understand the theme or the ideas which are being offered. The themes may be international. If any form of advertising is displayed in the parade penalty points are incurred.
This is a free vote from the judge with no technical restrictions. What counts is how much the judge likes the school overall. The judges can award 3 points (excellent, maximum), 2 points (good), or one point (average). Because of the subjective nature of these marks 'Conjunto' is a controversial category and in many years it is not included in the marking scheme.
Alegorias e Adereços
The plastic arts of the theme, the made artifacts; their originality, quality, movement, colours and effects. The judges should consider the Alegorias, which are any props, structures or scenes on the floats, and the Aderecos which are any props etc being carried by the walking paraders. The judges should chiefly consider how effective the floats and the props are for transmitting the theme; how through their design and form they help to deliver the theme's content. The costumes of the destaques (the big costumes on top of the floats and elsewhere in the parade) are judged in this category.
The judges must evaluate the creativity, good taste, originality, colour, individual effect and their effect when grouped together into the alas of the School, and the variety and adequacy of the costume in portraying the idea or object they are depicting. Included in this category are the costumes of all the alas including all the alas of dancers, the bateria and the baianas.
Comissão de Frente
The Comissão de Frente is the first group of people to pass through the Sambódromo on foot in each School (apart from people pushing floats or carrying props or banners etc). The judges must watch chiefly for their main function of saluting the public and presenting their School, looking for perfect coordination and precision in the movements of their performance, and also at their costumes. The Comissão de Frente is actually made up of dancers who perform a rich choreography, producing a spectacular effect; this first impression of the School should inspire the public.
Mestre-Sala e Porta-Bandeira
The dancing master and the flag carrier. Traditionally, their display is the means by which the School pays homage to the people and to its friends, showing this with their flags. The judges should look at the posture, elegance, grace, agility, and majesty of the Porta Bandeira; at the flexibility, variety of moves, courtesy and protection of the Porta Bandeira on the part of the Mestre Sala; and at the coordination of the movements of the pair.