By Chris Bicourt
At LSS, I have been lucky enough to have taken part in the creative process of bringing our carnival parade to life on several occasions. And I can tell you it’s not just a show – it’s the creation of worlds! It’s exhilarating. Who are the characters? Where does this world exist, who are the good guys, the bad guys? What’s the history? Is there magic in this world? Who could have imagined we’d be wheeling a giant Trojan horse down Westbourne Park Grove, made out of REAL oak, with a trapdoor straight out of Homer’s Iliad, pulled on ropes by two Helot slaves, and followed by a bateria of Spartans, in ‘Gods, Myths and Monsters’ in 2010? We gave people the opportunity to be Medusa, Icarus, Artemis, and even The Minotaur. We even had a chariot within which rode Hippolyte, Queen of the Amazons! Another year, we retold the story of the Spanish Conquistadors’ doomed search for El Dorado, and had a parade filled with Incan priests and deities – our main float was a huge Incan temple! Another theme brought together the world of the Arabian Nights with the backstreets of Rio de Janeiro, and a character called ‘Ze Malandro’, who got lost in a world of genies, flying carpets, magic jewels, desert sands and veils. And this year, we are doing something darker and more sinister than before with VoodooSamba: The Dark Cabaret, led by a dark queen of the dead, a powerful voodoo priestess and a bateria who are going to hell for partying too much, doomed to play samba for all eternity!
Creating these worlds has very practical considerations: what are the colours we will use that represent the theme, in the costumes and float design? What motifs or symbols? What textures? In ‘Gods, Myths and Monsters’ we used the well-known Ancient Greek ‘key’ pattern throughout the designs for costumes, and gold was one of the main colours. In ‘Ze Malandro’, we used a lot of blues to convey a sense of the mystical and magical night-time. This year’s VoodooSamba will explore textures such as snakeskin, leather, and symbols such as candles, skulls, dice, animal teeth and tarot cards.
The creative process behind our carnival is so exciting, and gives you such a greater insight into and understanding of samba. For instance, you may think it’s just dance and music, but it’s also theatre: in 2010, we had 6 stewards carrying life size replicas of Hoplite shields, which we used in a choreography for the bateria, in which they marched in front of the judges and crouched shoulder to shoulder in a shield wall, with the bateria crouched behind them, dramatically recreating the idea of the ancient Spartan fighting formation (which the Romans called the ‘Testugo’ or ‘turtle’) – see, you even have to know your history in some of these enredos! And that’s the incredible thing, if you have an interest in or a passion about another time or place, say, Ancient Egypt, or the Vikings, or something from the world of myth and fairy tale, the LSS carnival is where you can see it come to life. It may be the past, the present, or even the future: imagine a science-fiction meets samba theme!
The work that goes into bringing these worlds to life is huge and complex. We have various teams that help it along at the various stages (for example, theme development, artistic review, costume launch, samba de enredo competition) but despite the fact that we rely heavily on involvement from our volunteer members, we aim to be as efficient and professional as we can. To this end the LSS carnival process, just like the management of the school itself, is run like a business – we have to take into consideration managing complex budgets, and working as efficiently as possible, making sure we don’t lose money in the process (although the profits go back into the school itself), especially as we receive a grant from the Arts Council and have to justify each penny we spend.
And that’s the beauty of the LSS carnival – as members, we get to dance, or drum, but as volunteers we get experience of many aspects of a commercial business that we can go on to use in their professional lives (a lot of my own marketing experience and arguably my career has come from working in LSS as a volunteer, especially in carnival) – but it gives us the opportunity to turn dreams into reality, to create worlds, and to bring them to life on the road!
- 2009: A History of Samba
- 2010: Gods, Myths & Monsters
- 2011: Zé Malandro & the Forty Thieves
- 2012: Passing the Flame (Olympic year)
- 2013: Children of the Sun: The quest for El Dorado
- 2014: LSS 30 years of samba – from Notting Hill to the World
- 2015: VoodooSamba: The Dark Cabaret
Do you have a subject you’re passionate, or even obsessed about? What inspired you as a kid? Could you think of a world you would like to bring to life with 200 people, 2 floats, 6 alas, and 60 drummers on the road over the carnival season? If so, then we want to hear from you! Contact us for more details and we’ll give you some guidelines for submitting a theme*, which happens every August. If it gets chosen, we’ll make your dreams come true – how’s that for a deal? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*(to submit a theme you must be a member)