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.