RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) -- Rio de Janeiro woke up Monday
hungry for more controversy on the final day of the world famous Carnival
parades after the first samba schools whet the city's appetite with an
abundance of topless muses.
Many of the bare-breasted women dancing down the Sambadrome runway
Sunday represented plumed Indian princesses, who dominated the colorful
floats as the schools honored this year's theme -- the 500th anniversary of
the arrival of Portuguese explorers in Brazil.
But one sculptural dancer who dared to paint the Brazilian flag on her
body was the focal point of both the crowd and the police, who were going
to apprehend the woman before she threw on a shirt.
"It was an homage to the flag at a time when we are celebrating Brazil's
years," an irritated Angela Bismarck told TV Globo Monday morning.
The topless craze -- which has swept Carnival the same year that Rio
women won the right to sunbathe without bikini tops -- even spread to the
spectators as women in one of the VIP boxes casually removed their shirts.
"I think it's great that everyone shows everything," said Brazil's most
international fashion designer Ocimar Versolato. "Besides, with the 500
years of Brazil theme, it is completely appropriate."
The decision to center the festivities on the anniversary of the Portuguese
arrival on April 22, 1500, also meant that some schools used religious icons
on the floats -- prompting a big protest from the Roman Catholic Church.
Unidos da Tijuca, the first of the seven schools to parade Monday, hits
the runway with plenty of advance publicity after wrestling with the church
over a giant cross and a painting of the Virgin Mary on its floats.
Acting upon the request of the city's archdiocese, police confiscated the
religious props, but Unidos won a court order to get them back. It is not
yet known if the school will have them on full display Monday.
"This was marvelous publicity for the school," said Gilson Martins, who
leads one of the school's 30 dancing sections. "But, really, how were we
supposed to talk about the discovery of Brazil and not depict the first Mass
celebrated in the country?"
Many of the schools are adding fuel to the flames with references to torture,
corruption and censorship in Brazil's history. The Caprichosos de Pilares
school had a naked dancer painted with red whip marks hanging upside
down on a float that depicted a 1964-1985 dictatorship.
One of the perennial favorites, the Mangueira school, will tell the story
black population's fight for freedom from slavery, while another front-runner
for the 2000 title, Beija Flor, is expected to act out a rape of a black woman
by four white men.
Mocidade Independente skirted controversy Sunday, but virtually
guaranteed a place in the top finishers with a futuristic opening float full of
suspended contortionists that received the most applause during the all-night
Judges evaluate the 14 schools for 10 aspects, including song, floats,
costumes, drum section and coordination of the thousands of dancers. The
winner will be decided on Wednesday, when Brazil's biggest and most
expensive pre-Lenten celebration officially ends.
Copyright 2000 Reuters.