"I would never start over if I wasn’t sure to start a revolution."
On 20 June 1924, Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes, presented his new ballet, Le Train bleu, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The ballet was performed on a popular beach where wealthy people paraded around, having a good time, sunbathing, and mincing about. Jean Cocteau penned the libretto, Darius Milhaud composed the music, the sculptor Henri Laurens did the sets,
Picasso did the programme and stage curtain, and Gabrielle Chanel designed the costumes. The casting of dancers was just as prestigious and featured Anton Dolin and Serge Lifar, who can be seen in these photographs. The first was English and the second Russian, both were nineteen, had picture perfect bodies, which were showcased by the costumes created by Chanel, and undeniable charm.
The stage backdrop measuring ten metres high by twelve metres wide is a theatrical invitation. After a fanfare by George Auric as an opening, this curtain would rise up at the start of the ballet. When Diaghilev convinced Picasso to allow a small 34 x 42 cm gouache on cardboard entitled Deux Femmes courant sur la plage, from 1922, to be reproduced on a large scale for the stage curtain, he had anticipated the visual effect and the impact that these two giant figures would have on the spectator. Alexandre Schervahidze, scenographer, managed the feat of enlarging the subject in less than twenty-four hours. This monumental work was so precise and true to the original that Picasso signed the curtain with his name and a dedication to Diaghilev: Dédié à Diaghilev, Picasso 24. This curtain is the largest piece of work ever signed by Picasso.
The best synopsis of the provocative and free spirit of Le Train bleu remains that given by Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes: “The first thing to point out with regard to Le Train bleu, is that there is no blue train. [...]. It has already reached its destination and passengers have gotten off. We can see them on a beach that doesn’t exist, in front of a casino that exists even less. An airplane is flying overhead that you cannot see, and the plot doesn’t tell any story. [...] What’s more, this ballet isn’t a ballet. It’s an operetta to be danced. The music is composed by Darius Milhaud but it is nothing like the music he usually makes. It is danced by the real Ballets Russes, but it has nothing to do with a Russian ballet. It was created for Anton Dolin, a classical ballet dancer who had never done anything classical. The sets are painted by a sculptor and the costumes are by a famous fashion designer who has never designed theatre costumes. The stage curtain is one of the greatest artworks of Picasso. It is an introduction to the ballet, but it was never painted with that purpose in mind. So as you can see, there are many contradictions, but despite all that, the ballet is one of the most charming pieces you can imagine (seeing).”