The great secret of the Oakland Ballet's newly reconstructed "Le Train Bleu" is immediacy. The setting by sculptor Henri Laurens may slice an ordinary beach landscape into exotic Cubist planes and angles, but we instantly recognize it and its inhabitants: sleek bathing beauties in designer swimwear (by Coco Chanel, no less) and hot musclemen on the make. If we connect with this long-lost 1924 "operette dansee" through our own direct observation and experience, so do the dancers. "Train Bleu" may be a fabled relic of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, but it's also the ancestor of every surf frolic from "The Boy Friend" to "Beach Blanket Bingo." These young Californians understand it perfectly. Cast as seaside "poules" and "gigolos," they revel in the witty mock athleticism of Bronislava Nijinska's choreography, along with the preening narcissism that she so inventively filters through classical style.
The pantomimic sexual byplay devised by Jean Cocteau also seems second nature to them--and that's crucial, because "Train Bleu" is very much concerned with people selling themselves to one another. Sometimes the score by Darius Milhaud becomes an ironic comment on this lust-and-sand milieu--rather like Nijinska's pointed references to "Giselle" and "The Sleeping Beauty"--but elsewhere the use of familiar '20s idioms makes it sound like pop records playing in nearby hotels.
Although both Irina Nijinska (the choreographer's daughter) and Frank W. D. Ries (a Cocteau specialist) had to rely on guesswork as well as scholarship in assembling their reconstruction, "Le Train Bleu" always feels fully alive in the present tense.
Indeed, this insistently trivial and topical collaboration--which also originally enlisted the contributions of Pablo Picasso and Anton Dolin--seems infinitely closer to us than any of the dance masterworks created by Nijinska or her brother, Vaslav Nijinsky. As the irresistible "Beau Gosse" (Dolin's character), Michael Lowe can't smoothly switch between mime, gymnastics and classical bravura, so the role looks imposed on him rather than a custom-tailored tour de force. But Abra Rudisill makes every seductive flapper mannerism newly incendiary as "Perlouse" (originally danced by Lydia Sokolova), a portrayal exactly on target.
(Oakland Ballet originally announced it would unveil this reconstruction at UC Irvine in February, 1989. However, the company withdrew the work following complaints from Irina Nijinska that she had not been consulted despite her claim to the copyrights of her mother's work.)