In the evening, the animal becomes the director of the legendary carnival parade

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Few Brazilians can lay claim to dominating their scene, and at such a young age, than 39-year-old Carnival showman Leandro Vieira.

Vieira has become one of the most decorated leaders of the annual parade competition held in Rio de Janeiro. This year, as the carnival director of a samba school that hasn’t won in more than two decades, he can cement his name as one of the biggest since the festivities began almost 100 years ago.

Rio’s is the country’s premier carnival parade, and contestants compete for cash prizes, prestige and adulation.

Vieira’s job includes helping to choose her samba school’s theme for the year, the material of the costumes and who will appear on top of the magnificent floats. After all, he decides how his school spends about 10 million Brazilian reals (almost $2 million).

Vieira’s reputation as an artist, and his reputation as a party animal, has gone beyond Rio to as much fame as a filmmaker can get. He recently gave an interview to Roda Viva, a traditional public television program that often listens to the most respected Brazilians.

He not only competes in the official carnival parade, but also at unofficial block parties around town this time of year.

“I can’t just work, I have to feel the carnival in the street to be happy,” Vieira told The Associated Press. “More so after the pandemic that made us suffer so much, forced us to stay at home in 2021.”

Vieira’s position is carnivalesque.

He did it for Mangueira, the most famous samba school in Brazil, where he won the parade titles in 2016 and 2019. He subsequently lifted two trophies in the second division, making him one of the most successful in recent years.

This year he is carnivalesque for Imperatriz Leopoldinense, named after the former empress of Brazil, who recently moved up to the second division and where he hopes to earn the school’s first trophy since 2001.

Vieira says he doesn’t aim to simply shock or excite the audience, but rather to make thoughtful statements.

“I am not a carnivalesque of surprises. I’m not a glasses person,” Vieira said in an interview as he worked on his band’s radio equipment, which they will use to communicate during the parade.

This year, his school’s parade focused on the life of 1920s and 30s bandit Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, better known to Brazilians as Lampiao. Vieira says he chooses his subjects with one motto in mind. “It’s the story that official history doesn’t tell.”

For example, Lampio portrayed the samba school not only as a violent criminal, but also as a brave man who earned the respect of many Brazilians.

Ahead of this year’s parade, Vieira walked through the performers, fixing costumes and fine-tuning details with a smile on her face. He made sure that all the members did their part to sing this year’s theme music; a detail that could make a difference with the judges sitting in the audience at Rio’s Sambadrome.

Imperatriz Leopoldinense’s main choice this year was who to appoint drum queen, a role traditionally given to celebrities and models by the school. Last year it was pop singer Iza.

This time, Vieira helped give the nod to a 21-year-old communications student and dancer named Maria Maria from one of Rio’s low-income favelas. She was crowned last December in an emotional ceremony at the samba school’s headquarters wearing a headband designed by Vieira.

“Leandro is a great inspiration to all of us. He shows us that we can be the best in whatever field we like,” Maria said Tuesday, dressed in a devil costume that pokes fun at Lampiao’s character.

Vieira takes her role in the carnival parade industry seriously, but says participating in the holiday’s street parties is just as important to her. Earlier in the week, she joined the Prata Preta street party dressed as Brazilian singer Gal Costa, who died last year.

“The soul of the party is in the street,” he said.

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