While watching the 1924 ballet, Le Train Bleu, with the rest of the CURI team the other day, I was surprised at how light-hearted, playful, and funny it was.
Particularly after watching Ballet Mécanique and other 1920s art cinema, Le Train Bleu was certainly a change of pace. Le Train Bleu (choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, younger sister of the famous dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, and scenario by Jean Cocteau) tells the story of two couples—two handsome swimmers, a tennis player, and a golfer. They flirt, dance, and lock each other in the beach changing rooms. Darius Milhaud’s accompanying music score is light and comical.
At first, I saw no similarities between the cleverly amusing ballet and the jarring, frenetic Ballet Mécanique, other than the year they were premiered and the fact that they’re both ballets at least in name. Of course, there’s no reason to believe that the two would be similar—one was intended primarily to entertain, and the other, with Dada influences, was meant to provoke a reaction and possibly even to offend. Nonetheless, I found myself noticing a similarity.
Ballet Mécanique turns everyday objects into art. The shifting and swirling hats, bottles, and machine parts become the subject of an art film and, taking the title into consideration, become the dancers in a ballet.
Le Train Bleu shows dancers manipulating everyday objects (such a tennis racket and golf club) and performing everyday activities–the recreational games of a day on the beach.
Rather than present an over-the-top or overly romanticized plot (popular in ballets of the recent past), Cocteau wanted to show daily life as a subject of art, and Le Train Bleu’s simple (and somewhat satirical) representation of beach and sporting life certainly achieves this. Cocteau pokes fun at these activities and the upper classes who participate in them while also representing them as good enough subjects for a ballet.
It’s interesting that the widely differing Ballet Mécanique and Le Train Bleu both found inspiration in the mundane and every day.
Image from http://www.russianballethistory.com/diaghilevsartists.htm