Arts & Culture

Tony Arreaza Continues Building A Night in Rio Celebration

Neighborhood Theatre remains the right venue in party's 14th year

Dancers in full feathered costumes during a past Night in Rio performance
Dancers in a past Night in Rio performance at Neighborhood Theatre. (Photo by Jorge Torres)

In the 14 years that Tony Arreaza has been hosting the annual Night in Rio Carnaval celebration in Charlotte, there was only once that he tried to leave Neighborhood Theatre in NoDa and bring it to the Grady Cole Center to help cater to a larger crowd. 

“We wanted to make it bigger,” says Arreaza, who hosted the first Night in Rio with cofounder Iya Silva back in 2009. “It went really well, but the Neighborhood Theatre has something, man, it has a magic. I don’t know what to call it but it just made sense to leave it there.”

And so Arreaza continues on in NoDa each year hosting the cultural celebration that has become a staple of the local Brazilian community. This year’s event, scheduled for Feb. 17, will feature the usual dancing, live music, delicious authentic food and drinks. 

Read more: Local Carnival Party Celebrates a Decade of Authentic Brazilian Fun

After the signature kickoff, a parade winding through the crowd and a participatory drum circle on the dance floor, attendees can expect colorful dance performances and Afro-Brazilian martial arts presentations that combine music and dance by the NC Brazilian Arts Project and Samba Charlotte, plus a live music performance by Tiaguinho RJ featuring Laercio Costa and special guest DJ Gabe.

Arreaza told NoDa News that he only expected it to be a one-off when he launched the event in 2009, but it’s only grown from there. Having organized countless events in Charlotte through his company Carlotan Talents since 2000, A Night in Rio has become a special one for Arreaza.  

A capoeira performance at a past Night in Rio celebration. (Photo by Jorge Torres)

“It’s been a blast because it’s probably the event that I’ve organized that is the most diverse,” he said. “When I say diverse, it’s not just Latinos, it’s not just Brasileiros, there’s a lot of Americans. A lot of Europeans, too. I think it’s amazing. It’s one of those things that I like about the show. It’s like a melting pot crowd. I think it’s special. 

“We really don’t have that many events like that in Charlotte, other than going to Charlotte FC games, that make you feel that kind of vibe,” he continued. “The music that they play and you hear different accents and languages, I think it’s beautiful. That’s the kind of vibe I see in A Night in Rio.” 

It’s not just Neighborhood Theatre that has served as the perfect home for A Night in Rio but the neighborhood of NoDa as a whole, where Arreaza has called home since 2010. 

“A lot of people complain about NoDa as far as parking and stuff like that, but with this event, people are just happy,” he said. “They want to be close to the entertainment and they want to take pictures with the dancers. It’s a perfect fit — the atmosphere, the sounds, it just makes sense.” 

Crowd members listen to a live music performance at a past Night in Rio celebration. (Photo by Jorge Torres)

In 2018, Arreaza and his team were successful in bringing the party out into the neighborhood, with fully costumed dancers leading the parade into the intersection of East 36th and North Davidson streets to dance with passersby.

The new neighborhood tradition lasted for two years before the city made it too much of a hassle. 

“We did it twice with no problem, and then the third time they said, ‘It’s not safe,’” he recalled. “They put so many obstacles that I just didn’t want to deal with. They wanted me to pay some huge insurance and I was like, ‘This parade is going to take less than 10 minutes.’ This is the arts district. What better place to do it? But I haven’t done that again.” 

Inside Neighborhood Theatre’s walls, however, the party rages on. 

As the years have gone by, the event has become a bigger deal for Charlotte’s Brazilian community. Arreaza said some of the dancers even travel to Rio De Janeiro, where the Carnaval celebration has its roots, to practice for Charlotte’s observance. 

Dancers in full feathered costumes during a past Night in Rio performance
A dancers at a past Night in Rio performance at Neighborhood Theatre. (Photo by Jorge Torres)

A Venezuelan American himself, Arreaza employs a Brazilian community advisor who helps him keep things authentic, from the musical acts to the dishes being served. That’s what led to this year’s selection of Tiaguinho RJ of Florida and Brazilian artist Laercio da Costa

“I normally go heavily on the local performers but this year I’m doing 50/50. I’m bringing people in and listening to what the community feels like is better for the event,” he explained. 

Read more: Tony Arreaza Brings Charlotte’s Latin Music Scene Into the Spotlight

That also includes the food selection, as Arreaza this year is bringing in Brazilian Way Sport Bar, which recently opened in the Galleria in southeast Charlotte. 

“The food is very, very important. I really try to be as authentic as possible,” he said. “It’s just amazing. The steak, the chorizo, the coxhina — the food is going to be spectacular and it’s going to be authentic.” 

Visit the Night in Rio website for more information and/or to buy tickets

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