A carnival parade in Rio Brazil is made up of a series of conventions and criteria, which somehow regulate the amazing show watched by millions of people around the globe. Some of the evaluated criteria include the size of floats, parade timing, and harmony within the samba-school members, which are analyzed by a judging commission. The opening wing or “Comissao de Frente”, to use the original expression in Portuguese, is also one of these criteria examined by the carnival judging panel, to help determine the parade contest winner of each year. To understand why this element became a mandatory element in Brazilian parades, we have to go back at least 150 years in the history of Brazils Carnaval. Below we will provide a small summary of the opening wings & origins, innovations and present characteristics so readers can enjoy the carnival culture in Brazil with more comprehension.
In the midst of 1850s, before samba-schools formally existed, street carnival guilds called ‘carnival societies’, or in Portuguese, “sociedades carnavalescas” used to march in Rios street Carnivals. These organized clubs and samba associations celebrated Carnaval the old way, in a procession, and revelers would wear rich European costumes. These were the first carnaval groups assembled somehow in a parade. During these days, in the beginning of the caravan, men rode horses and wore tailcoat and top hats ahead of the floats literally opening the parade / procession, and greeting spectators. Later, horses and carriages were substituted by open cars at the procession, in what would be called “Corso de Carnaval”. In essence, the samba-schools from today “borrowed” the idea from the Carnival Societies of the last quarter of the 1800s in Brazil.
Isnard Arajo and Candeia, two famous samba scholars, wrote in a book called “Escola de Samba – Arvore que Nunca Esqueceu Raiz” – that the first samba-school to present a formal opening wing during an official parade was Portela. This fact was confirmed by Hiram Arajo, another renowned samba historian in Brazil, and by carnaval researcher Amaury Jrio in the book “Escolas de Samba em Desfile”. From that moment on, other samba-schools started to have a “Comisso de Frente” on carnaval parades. Brazilian journalist Francisco Duarte, listening to testimonials from Unidos da Tijuca Samba-School founders, said that ahead of parade there was usually a live animal: “once there was a frog, another time a little she donkey, and finally, in 1936, a school member was there in a dragon costume greeting and opening way through people”. After this live animal, escorted or carried by a samba-school member, there was an opening float, usually a boy carrying a signboard made of painted cardboard. Preceding the Opening Wing, circus type clowns known as Tico-Ticos wearing satin suits came up, carrying their big walking sticks and cages.
First Innovations at Parades
Vizinha Faladeira, the first Samba-School to win a carnaval contest in Brazil, made a “small revolution” in the Carnaval of 1935, and their great novelty was exactly the Opening Wing, elegantly composed by 12 limousines. In 1936, Vizinha Faladeira Samba-School was again innovative and brought the Comissao de Frente on horses, just like the way Great Carnaval Societies (Grandes Sociedades) used to do.
From 1938 on, the Opening Wing became part of the official regulation for the parades. It was then formed by distinguished samba-school members, like directors from the board, patrons, elder samba players, or important people from community. This group had the mission to present the school to the jury to the carnaval crowd and authorities, while receiving applause from samba enthusiasts. They would go marching by foot.
Throughout the years, the Opening Wing always found a way to evolve and present a different look throughout its outfits, posture, in the presentation, and members / components. In 1965, in the Carnaval of the IV Centenary, Salgueiro Samba-School presented “little donkeys” as Opening Wing (typical from the “folguedos” – typical popular festival from several regions of Brazil). The first time though women came on a “Comissao de Frente” was in 1969 by Samba-School Imperatriz Leopoldinense. They represented the Africans and the theme was “Brazil, lovely flower of three races”.
In 1978, another historical curiosity: Estao Primeira de Mangueira Samba-School presented two Opening Wings during their parade. The first, which would be analyzed by the jury, was formed by women, and the second, formed by the elders from the samba-school like Cartola, Nelson Cavaquinho, Grande Otelo, and others. Today, Comissao de Frente may be formed by men, women, or even children. They are fancy dressed, they come in white tie, black tie, suits, or costumes, whatever the parade-theme requires.
In case the samba-school chooses costumes according to the theme, the Comissao de Frente may go on parade developing choreography, dancing the samba, or simply walking slowly. There are regular and specific rehearsals for their members. Comissao de Frente has its performance ahead the school or after abre-alas ( opening float) and has a maximum and a minimum number of members, which is determined by the parade contest regulation.
Since the Opening Wing became a requirement for the contest judgment, samba-schools always give it special attention today, hiring choreography specialists, teachers and dancers, so as to avoid losing points in this contest criterion. In 1990, the Liga Independente ( Samba Association ) reduced the score value in its judgment criteria, same as occurred to Mestre-Sala and Porta-Bandeira, but, in 1991, the scores values became just like the other requirements. Whatever the “samba scholars” might think of in terms of criteria, keep an eye at this interesting portion of the parade. Just like in movies, the Opening Wing maybe a film preview, providing us small hints as to what the parade show will demonstrate us ahead!
Photo by Luiz Fernando / Sonia Maria
Photo by iShot71