The first night of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival competition saw five of the city's top samba schools parade in the Sambadrome, each delivering an over-the-top, hour-long all-singing, all bumping-and-grinding display in an attempt tocapture the title of Rio's best samba school.

Each samba school can have up to 4,000 dancers and a maximum of eight huge floats. Although each school ostensibly has a theme, the costumes often seem so random that it can be hard to identify the common thread.

The first school to parade through the huge, packed Sambadrome on Sunday was Império da Tijuca. Their elaborate floats and costumes represented the African origins of Brazil's music and many of its people.

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Imperio da Tijuca dancers perform on one of the school's floats as it makes its way through the Sambadrome
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Laynara Teles, Drum Queen of the Imperio da Tijuca samba school, dances during the annual carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome

The next school to parade through the 700m-long stadium was Grande Rio. They chose to tell the story of the 200-year-old city of Marica, through the use of fountains, a human cannonball, dancers dressed as butterflies, and a guest appearance by Charles Darwin.

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A human cannonball is fired from one of the Grande Rio samba school floats in the Sambadrome
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Actress Christiane Torloni, Drum Queen of the Grande Rio samba school, dances in the annual Carnival parade

The Sao Clemente samba school chose 'Favelas' as their theme, using humour to highlight the problems of life in the slums.

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Revellers dance on one of the Sao Clemente samba school floats
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Raphaela Gomes, Drum Queen of the Sao Clemente samba school, participates in the Carnival parade

In contrast to some of the worthy themes chosen by the other samba schools, Mangueira chose 'Parties' as their theme. Their parade was a garish high-energy celebration, climaxing with their tribute to the biggest party of all: Carnival.

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Revellers perform on a huge, colourful Mangueira samba school float
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Evelyn Bastos, Drum Queen of Mangueira, dances with her samba school in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome

Salgueiro chose to represent the creation of the world and man's destruction of nature. Their parade highlighted the four elements, with sections devoted to fire, water, earth and air.

One of the Salgueiro samba school floats makes its way through the Sambadrome
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Viviane Araujo, Drum Queen of the Salgueiro samba school, dances during the annual Carnival parade

Finally, Beija Flor, who have won more titles in recent years than all the other schools put together, entered the Sambadrome. They attempted to portray the history of communication, but – looking at the floats and costumes – this may not have been obvious to the crowds who had sat through seven hours of partying.

The competition continues tonight with displays by six additional samba schools.

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Beija Flor Drum queen Rayssa Oliveira performs during the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome