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Members of the 'Portela' samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luiz Eduardo Perez / EPA

Revelers of the Unidos da Tijuca samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: TASSO MARCELO LEAL / AFP/Getty Images

A reveler of the Uniao da Ilha samba school performs during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP/Getty Images

Revelers of the Unidos da Tijuca samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: TASSO MARCELO LEAL / AFP/Getty Images

Members of Unidos da Tijuca Samba School perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Buda Mendes / Getty Images

Revelers of the Unidos da Tijuca samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: TASSO MARCELO LEAL / AFP/Getty Images

Uniao da Ilha samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP/Getty Images

Revelers of the Unidos da Tijuca samba school perform during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: TASSO MARCELO LEAL / AFP/Getty Images

A performer from the Imperio da Tijuca samba school dances on a float during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Felipe Dana / Associated Press

Members of the Beija-Flor samba school perform during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luiz Eduardo Perez / EPA

A performer from the Grande Rio samba school joins in a parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Felipe Dana / Associated Press

Members of the Beija-Flor samba school perform during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: MARCELO SAYAO / EPA

A performer from the Sao Clemente samba school creates a heart with her hands during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Nelson Antoine / Associated Press

A performer from the Salgueiro samba school interacts with the crowd during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Felipe Dana / Associated Press

Performers from the Salgueiro samba school join in a parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Nelson Antoine / Associated Press

Rio de Janeiro's two nights of Carnival parades began with a burst of fireworks and to the cheers of thousands of tourists and locals taking part in street celebrations, known as "blocos de rua," around the city.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Buda Mendes / Getty Images

A dragon float spews smoke during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Grande Rio samba school perform during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP/Getty Images

A performer from the Mangueira samba school lets out a yell during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Silvia Izquierdo / Associated Press

Members of the Salgueiro samba school perform during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP/Getty Images

A Beija-Flor samba school performer takes part in Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: CHRISTOPHE SIMON / AFP/Getty Images

A Salgueiro samba school performer dances during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP/Getty Images

Members of the Beija-Flor samba school perform during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP/Getty Images

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2014 Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

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2014 Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

Brazil is known for its exotic fauna, but the creatures on display Sunday night for the opening round of Rio de Janeiro’s exuberant Carnival parade were a motley crew, even by local standards.

The Carnival competition sees the city’s top samba groups, or schools, parade in the Sambadrome, each delivering an over-the-top, hour-long display aimed at capturing the annual title.

No excess is deemed too much, and each year the bar is raised that much higher. Sunday’s all-night-long displays saw a float shaped like a mammoth wedding cake presided over by a larger-than-life Pope Francis, a herd of elderly gentlemen in jewel-toned bull costumes complete with sequin-covered horns, and a dancing teepee surrounded by native Brazilians in green feather headdresses.

Though each school ostensibly has a theme, the costumes are often so varied and sometimes unidentifiable that it can be hard to identify the common thread.

“I paraded for 15 years for one school,” said Jose Vieira, a retired restaurateur who was soaking in the action from one of the exclusive areas sponsored by top Brazilian companies where the elite gather to drink free beer and watch the parade from above. “It’s a wonderful experience. Even from up here in this nice space, I really miss being down there.”

Each samba school is judged in 10 categories, including the quality of the drum sections and the beauty of the costumes. Whichever group comes in last falls from the top-tier competition into a lower category contest. The competition continues Monday night with displays by six additional schools.

Rio’s Carnival celebrations aren’t limited to the Sambadrome, where even a ticket for the bleachers can cost hundreds of dollars. The city is also the site of nearly 500 raucous, beer-fueled street parties that begin at daybreak and pulse through the night.

– Associated Press

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