The Fiberholic

An Outsiderís Guide to Carnaval in Montevideo

This article is the summation of my knowledge of how Carnaval is practiced in Uruguay. It includes general dates, places, and how to find information. The emphasis is on Montevideo, where I have the most experience.

Carnaval originated in Europe and was brought to Uruguay by European immigrants to the country. Although the weather during Carnaval is very different from Europeís chilly damp, many of Uruguayís traditions are based on the traditions of Europe. Some, however, are founded on the newer traditions of freed slaves.

There are two basic divisions of Carnaval events: parades (desfiles) and performances (tablados). Each neighborhood sporting club will have tablados and, possibly, parades. I will discuss the parades first.

Parades

Parades take place throughout the city. Some are solely made up of comparsas (candombe groups); others of all kinds of groups - from tango schools to clown troupes. The first parade of the year is free, and is a practice for the big ones to follow. It is on January 6th, Epiphany. The route is the same as the Calls (Llamadas) parade in February - down Calle Carlos Gardel/Isla de las Flores. Solely made up of comparsas, it is with minimal costumes, flags, and drums. Some groups wear make up; others donít. The three kings of the nativity walk in the middle of the parade and hand out treats to the children.

The first large, complete parade of the year takes place toward the end of January and kicks off Carnaval, earning its title of Inaugural. It is one with all kinds of groups, and marches down 18 de Julio from Plaza de Independencia to Ejido. The most attended and largest parade is Desfile de las Llamadas. It takes the route down Carlos Gardel/Isla de las Flores, and is during the first week of February. Unlike other parades, this one is so large, it takes two nights to complete. Each night starts around eight, and ends between three and four in the morning. Comparsa groups in full regalia march and are judged on their performances. The street is very, very crowded, and you must buy tickets for entrance beforehand from Abitab. It is also possible, with the right connections, to rent a rooftop. The usual precautions about large crowds apply.

Competition - Teatro Verano

Competition is divided into five categories over three rounds, with a preliminary round for unknown and new groups before hand. The categories are revistas, comprasas, humoristas, parodistas, and murgas. Escuelas de samba compete during the preliminaries, but not past that point. Teatro Verano hosts the competitions, and preliminaries start sometime between Christmas and the beginning of January. Performances begin at nine and there are four acts per night. If you stay for all four groups, you will not be leaving the theater until some time around two in the morning. Below is a table of performance lengths and basic information about each type of group.

GroupPerformance TypeShow Duration
RevistaDance group60 minutes
ComprasaTraditional drums and dance group (candombe)60 minutes
HumoristaComedy group60 minutes
ParodistaSatire about current events70 minutes
MurgaSinging group about current events45 minutes

There is a 20-30 minute break between performances to let the groups break down and set up their sets. All groups have some dancing and some singing, and the music is live. This is an outdoor theater, so dress appropriately. There are also food and souvenir vendors. Tickets available at Abitab.

Tablados

Various sporting clubs and other venues around town sponsor performances through February and March. They may or may not schedule more than a day in advance. The best way to get tickets is to go to the box office of the venue. Performances are usually selected sections from the overall competition performances, and as such, the tablados showcase more groups per night. Unlike in competition, the tablados can have theme nights - all murgas, all parodistas, and so on.

References

For more specific information on Carnaval events in Montevideo, I recommend www.carnavaldeluruguay.com. This site lists the complete schedule for Teatro Verano and links to the venues for tablados. In the forums, you can see videos of current season and past season performances. They also list the marching order of the parades. Any and all information they can glean, they put up. Ticketing is in person at Abitab. Unfortunately, Abitabís current website does not give an option to buy tickets online. Luckily, there are a LOT of Abitab locations in Montevideo.