Rachel Rosenthal

Rachel Rosenthal (1926-2015) was born in Paris in 1926 to a wealthy Russian family. Raised primarily by servants, her earliest impressions of her parents were as an audience for whom she performed, seeing them only when she was dressed nicely and on her best behavior. By the age of six, she was studying ballet and soon after was performing at parties of over 100 people held by her parents. During WWII, her family fled to Brazil and in 1941 settled in the United States, where Rosenthal completed high school at the High School of Music and Art. She continued to study dance and theater in New York, dancing with Merce Cunningham and apprenticing herself to directors and designers in the theater world. In the early 50s, she was associated with the avant garde, socializing with Robert Rauschenberg, Sari Dienes, and John Cage, who introduced her to Zen Buddhism and Asian philosophy. In 1955, she moved to Los Angeles, where she quickly became a central figure in experimental theater as a director, performer and troupe leader. In the 1970s, she became an important figure in a rising tide of feminist artists, co-founding the Womanspace Gallery. During this time, she wrote, directed, and performed more than 30 full-length performances. By the late 70s, she began teaching performance and in 1989 she founded the Rachel Rosenthal Company, whose repertoire focused on art that aims to “stave off ‘total ecological collapse,’” according to Rosenthal, touching on issues of environmental destruction, animal rights, social justice issues, and spiritual interconnectedness of the universe.  Rosenthal retired from performance in 2000, the same year she was declared a “Living Cultural Treasure of Los Angeles,” to focus on animal rights activism, visual arts, and writing books, including a travelogue of her time in Japan, a tribute to her beloved pet rat, and a book based on her “Doing by Doing” (DbD) series of creative workshops. Rosenthal passed away in 2015 at the age of 88.

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