Marta’s Last Chapter

February 16, 2012

Storytelling is an art.

Nobody knows that better – or has done that better than Marta Becket.

For over 45 years, Marta Becket has told stories through dance, art, and theatre, captivating audiences, young and old, at the Amargosa Opera House in the otherwise unforgiving landscape of Death Valley in the California desert. And for those unable to have seen her in person, her story is memorialized in her autobiography, To Dance on Sands.

And now, Marta’s closed another chapter, giving her last performance on stage before an adoring crowd. One of her most devoted fans, Las Vegas Review-Journal journalist John L. Smith, dedicates a column to the creative artist that is Marta.

Marta’s last performance certainly not an end to her artistry
On Valentine’s Day, I have a blushing confession: I’m in love with a ballerina. Have been for years.

I know I am not alone in this regard. In fact, it’s safe to say I am just one of thousands of Stage Door Johnnys to visit the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction and make moon eyes over the amazing Marta Becket.

For the past 45 years, Marta has been a one-woman wellspring of creativity in a most unlikely oasis in the California desert less than two hours from Las Vegas.

On Sunday before a capacity crowd at the opera house, Marta officially had her final performance. A series of injuries have prevented her from dancing, and her friends say she decided to put an end to any speculation that she might have one more comeback in her. I would say the remarkable woman has more than earned her bouquets and ovations. She is, after all, 87.

As a boy on desert prospecting trips with my father and grandfather, we passed through Death Valley Junction not long after Marta began her incredible run. She was no more than an oddity then. Some desert rats thought it strange that a trained ballet dancer would inhabit the cobwebbed Corkhill Hall in what was then essentially a ghost town. But that’s one of the great things about the desert: There’s room for every eccentricity.

Marta didn’t just sweep out the Pacific Borax Co. recreation center. She transformed it by painting murals of as eclectic an audience as was ever assembled in the Old Globe. Within a few years, she gained an international celebrity and coverage in major magazines, National Geographic among many.

Decades later, I brought my daughter, Amelia, to meet the great woman. They exchanged books and talked about art. Marta was still mending from injuries suffered in a fall but was generous with her time and energy. As always, she was the gracious hostess.

Although she no longer will perform, Amargosa Opera House Director of Operations Rich Regnell tells me she will continue her artwork and greet visitors. While many of those are curious tourists, a fair number are artists themselves who have learned of Marta’s devotion to her own artistic quest.

“She’s a legend,” Regnell says. “She’s an icon in the business, but she’s also an inspiration. She’s Marta. People are inspired by her. She has inspired people to do what they love. She would say, ‘Do what you want to do and don’t worry. The money will come.’ She’s inspired dancers, writers, choreographers, memoirists, playrights, moviemakers, people who teach art to kids. It’s amazing the amount of people who have been impressed to move forward and do their own art thanks to Marta.”

When word went out that Marta would be ending her long, long run in Death Valley Junction, Regnell’s phone rang constantly. The opera house quickly sold out with a 10-page waiting list to spare.

“The calls varied all the way from ‘Oh my gosh, what do you mean I can’t get tickets,’ to crying on the phone because they’ve been so inspired by her,” he says. “I keep asking Marta if she wants to retire again next weekend.

“This is a new beginning. It’s not the end. Marta will focus on what she wants to do with her art. She’ll continue to meet with visitors.”

There’s even a plan to develop “Dinner and a Movie with Marta” nights at the opera house. No doubt they’ll be a draw.

After all, she is beloved.

Ray Bradbury had it right many years ago. After watching her perform, Bradbury wrote, “Tears came to my eyes. Marta represented to be the spirit of the individual. The spirit of the theater. The spirit of creativity.”

That lovely spirit endures at the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at

Still Dancing After All These Years

August 25, 2011

At 87 years old, Marta Becket still captivates audiences at the Amargosa Opera House she stumbled upon almost 45 years ago.  The September/October edition of Nevada Magazine highlights the legendary Marta, whose dedication to the arts has kept the Opera House alive all these years. Read the full article here:

A New Day in Amargosa

October 6, 2010

The old adage “The show must go” is definitely the sentiment of the Amargosa Opera House. Although Marta Becket no longer goes en point her creative spirit is still going strong. Saturday, October 30th marks the debut of a permanent American historic exhibition and dance performance entitled “If These Walls Could Talk.” A collaboration between Marta and Sandy Scheller this show includes mime, video footage, and art.

More details about the show including show times and tickets can be found at

Press Release

The final curtain: Amargosa Opera House visionary Marta Becket prepares to bow out

September 3, 2010

Kristen Peterson
Las Vegas Weekly

“I had a dream the other night that I walked out of my house on two legs, walked to the house across the street, sat on the porch with its potted plants and looked at my house from that vantage point … I feel grateful for my life, my memories. I’m most grateful that I’ve had this stage for 40 years to create my own world.” –Marta Becket

Read entire article

Marta Becket’s desert dance goes on

January 4, 2010

NEVADA STORIES: Despite injury, Marta Becket’s desert dance goes on


Discuss this column in the eForums! Editor’s note: Today John L. Smith begins a new feature column devoted to people, places and events from around the state and the region.

Like a blithe spirit carried on a desert breeze, Marta Becket has danced for kings and commoners for more than four decades as the singular star performer at the Amargosa Opera House.

Read entire article

New Production at Opera House

November 27, 2009

Sandy1webBy Stacey Fott

While Marta Becket is taking a break from performing this season, visitors to the Amargosa Opera House will still be able to take in a show. If These Walls Could Talk created by Sandy Scheller and Marta combines Marta’s paintings on the theatre’s walls with music and dance from around the world. There are no spoken words but the murals still come to life – becoming characters. In addition to the Saturday evening performace, a Sunday matinee has been added at 2 p.m. Reservations are required. Call 760-852-4441 or visit

On with the Show!

June 26, 2009

Welcome to! Please leave your comments on the life and times of Marta Becket or her book To Dance on Sands.