It started with Vaslav Nijinsky, the fabled Russian dancer who turned the ballet world on its head and then lost his own to madness by 1917.
It picked up with his sister, Bronislava Nijinska. She devoted herself to continuing the legend and went on to create her own landmark works for Diaghilev's glittery Ballets Russes--where such elite collaborators as Cocteau, Stravinsky, Picasso, Balanchine, Milhaud and others were crafting the Paris-based repertory.
And it continues today with the late Bronislava's 76-year-old daughter, Irina, who lives with her husband, Gibbs Raetz, a retired engineer, in her mother's green stucco house that overlooks ocean and canyon in Pacific Palisades.
"But there's one big difference," says the guardian of Bronislava's ballets, holding a letter just received from the Oleg Vinogradov of the Kirov Ballet inviting her to stage her mother's "Les Noces" in Leningrad. "This revival going on."
Indeed. With companies across the land and over the sea discovering the very roots of modern ballet in these masterworks, and with Los Angeles about to enjoy two different celebrations of the Nijinskys here on consecutive weekends, history edges into the present.
"Le Train Bleu," which Irina reconstructed with Frank W. D. Ries for the Oakland Ballet, comes for a single performance today at Pepperdine. "Les Noces," which she staged for the Joffrey, comes to the Music Center next Friday.
In 1940, 11 years after Diaghilev's death, a war-beleaguered Bronislava sought haven here. She arrived with her husband and daughter and set about being what a gifted choreographer of the wrong sex was virtually prohibited from being just a little earlier in Europe: an impresaria.
"A married woman could not have her own passport or take a loan or open a bank account," says Irina Nijinska. "It all promised to happen (for Bronislava) in this strange and exotic place," she says, her words marked by a soft multi-language patois. "She put together a company that played Hollywood Bowl. There were the Tallchief girls--Maria (at 14) and Marjorie (at 12). Everybody thought it was wonderful. But afterwards no one came to her support and she had no money to continue."
From then on, Bronislava contented herself with the life of a missionary, traveling the world to stage both her own ballets and her brother's.
"I'm only sorry (the revival) didn't happen in Nijinska's lifetime," says the daughter, speaking of her mother as an exalted figure. "But by putting on her ballets, I feel she's with me. I never go to the cemetery because she's here, not there. She wanted the recognition. Now she has it and I gave it to her through this legacy she left me."
That legacy comprises 70 works. From 1921 to 1925, Nijinska was the only choreographer at Maison Diaghilev.
"I was a jumper, like Vaslav. And Bronia (Bronislava) gave me a wonderful part in 'Biches' that showed off my elevation. But I didn't like being on pointe. I was a \o7 caractere\f7 dancer and preferred rehearsals to performances."
Little wonder that she has the inspiration to painstakingly assemble the ballets from scratch--and remains undaunted by the speculation of some critics: that the 1924 'Le Train Bleu," for instance, might be seen merely as historical curiosity.
It was, after all, considered a frippery, one of those typically chic cocktail numbers Diaghilev loved so--a spoof of the Riviera beach scene and music hall routines costumed by Coco Chanel herself. Nevertheless, tickets were harder to get than those for the train from Paris to Nice, after which it was named.
"The ballet is certainly an important one," Nijinska insists--for reasons other than the argument it provoked between her mother and Diaghilev, forcing the end of their association; she was inclined towards the abstract and he liked narrative ballets, with the librettist Cocteau standing on the impresario's side.
" 'Train Bleu' shows a contrasting facet to the style of 'Les Noces,' which is architectural, and 'Les Biches,' which is neo-classic."
No one, moreover, regards "Les Noces" as inconsequential. Nijinska proudly relates the comment of Jerome Robbins: "He told me that if he had seen it he would never have created his own ballet to the same Stravinsky score. Even the composer finally agreed to forgo his libretto. That's how cleverly the choreographer illustrated the music."
Nijinska fingers the tiny black beads around her neck, the same ones, she says, that her grandmother wore to the Paris premiere of Vaslav's "Sacre du Printemps" and that she wore three years ago to the Joffrey's local revival of that ballet. There are so many memories:
"Vaslav sitting on a chair in the sanitarium (where he would live out his psychotic alienation for another 30 years). It was 1921, in Vienna. He smiled, but did not recognize his mother or sister.
"The pictures of family members in Kiev, most of them killed after the 1917 revolution.
"The story of my mother's pregnancy with me, which kept her from going to Buenos Aires and rescuing Vaslav from Romola de Pulszky (whom he married, thus provoking Diaghilev to banish Nijinsky from the Ballets Russes).
"My grandmother used to say that Vaslav was like a plant whose roots had been torn away when Diaghilev refused to let him come back."
The Nijinskys, artistic revolutionaries whose brave new ballets attempted to set aside Romantic ideals, did not have an easy time--to say the least.
But the last champion of their lot shows no slackening of purpose. She points to boxes of archives, the material for the second volume of Bronislava's memoirs.
"And in a few months," she says, I'll be off to Taipei, Sidney, Amsterdam, Lisbon and Monte Carlo. There are a few things to do."