KPBS AIRDATE: MAY 19, 2000
With her cue-ball head, piercing blue eyes and genderless facade, Rachel Rosenthal looks positively other-worldly. And that fits her new performance piece just fine.
In “Ur-Boor,” we first see her trapped in what appears to be some high-tech hell… a cage-like, egg-shaped rat’s nest of steel and wires. But we soon discover, as she does, that it’s actually a capsule and she’s hurtling through space, backed by projections of the earth in the distance and caroming meteors heading our way. She’s alone in the universe, except for a disembodied, computerized voice that goads her into taking on the challenge for which she’s been selected. She’s been chosen to “integrate and exorcise” the rampant boorishness of our society, becoming the Ur or generic, original, grande-dame, if you will, of boors, in order to rid the world of its now-inherent incivility, rudeness and barbarity.
As Rosenthal, the uber-boor, comes to realize, boorishness includes everything from public exposure of private parts and acts, to giving the finger on the freeway, from killing and eating animals to ethnic cleansing and mass human genocide. As we take this trip with her, in outer and inner space, we learn a bit about Rosenthal herself… about her Russian father, who arrived penniless in Paris and elevated himself to a member of the nouveau riche, if not the upper class. And how young Rachel was taught all the niceties by a nanny and a governess, but she, too, has transgressed over time, lapsed from politesse … as have we all. We need to get back on track, deal with all our garbage, clean up our society. Rosenthal has utopian visions and, as she demonstrates in a Russian dance and a French song, a cockeyed but somehow enduring optimism.
As the doyenne of performance art, Rosenthal, now 73, is still unique in her art and her artistry. Although she spawned a generation of navel-watching solipsistic performance artists, her vision remains large… her sights set on society, on human kind (or unkind), and on our collective and individual role in shaping the future. Scoring this world premiere, billed as the artist’s final solo tour, was a major coup for Sushi Performance and Visual Art, especially in its 20th anniversary year. And though Rosenthal doesn’t have much new to say, she’s endlessly intriguing and compelling, in how she says it. One minute poetic, the next shrill or bombastic, she’s not subtle, but she forces you to sit up and take notice — and maybe even to take action.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.