RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Rio de Janeiro began four days of revelry on Friday as the mayor handed the city keys to the Lord of Misrule and cancan dancers arrived from Paris to join spectacular weekend parades, signaling the start of its famed Carnival.
The huge annual pre-Lenten party traditionally begins with the symbolic relinquishing of control of the Brazilian city to King Momo, this year in the portly shape of Milton Rodrigues da Silva, and the forces of Carnival chaos he represents.
“Don’t look for me,” said Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes, after handing over a huge silver-colored key to Da Silva near sun-drenched Copacabana beach. “I’ll be having a drink, so look for King Momo to complain and give explanations.”
Paes, elected in October, may have found it more galling than most mayors to hand over control of the city as he has for weeks been waging a campaign to bring order to Rio’s notoriously chaotic streets, with mixed results.
That disorder will be in full force through Ash Wednesday as hundreds of thousands of Brazilians and foreign tourists forget their worries and their morals in wild neighborhood parties, defying the gloomy world economy.
The glittering centerpiece of the show is the Sambadrome stadium, where 5,000-strong parades by competing Samba schools promise to be as colorful and sexually charged as ever despite funding cuts by sponsors hit by the financial crisis.
The darker side of Rio’s disorder has marred the run-up to this year’s Carnival: more than 50 tourists have been violently robbed in the past few days.
The latest victim was an Australian woman robbed of cash and her passport on Friday morning, a day after more than 40 tourists, including some from Britain, Argentina, Germany and the United States, were robbed in two separate incidents. The day before, at least 13 tourists were held up at a hostel.
Despite the crisis, Rio is expecting a rise in Carnival visitors to 719,000 from 705,000 last year, although the number of foreigners is expected to fall 10 percent fall.
The festival of Bacchanalia, which will bring much of Brazil to a halt and be mirrored by smaller Carnivals elsewhere in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, is expected to pump $521 million into the city’s coffers.
Among the novelties of this year’s parades — a group of 32 dancers from famous Paris cabaret bar the Moulin Rouge who will try to make the switch from cancan to Samba.
The lanky dancers, including Germans, Britons and Australians, paraded in a Copacabana hotel for the media on Friday wearing elaborate plumed costumes that cost about 10,000 euros ($12,800) each.
“The big test will be in the parade,” said Janet Pharoah, the group’s choreographer, who said it had been a challenge to reconcile the two very different dance styles.
Additional reporting by Maria Pia Palermo; editing by Todd Benson and Todd Eastham