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An appreciation of Marta Becket

Marta BecketMarta Becket was expected to live forever by fans who insisted she must. She was to keep dancing. The world she created at Death Valley Junction was to be eternal because that is the stuff that dreams are made of.

The New York City dancer who’d moved to the edge of Death Valley in the late ’60s, to this empty town she famously came across only through happenstance, would perform before an audience that she’d painted onto the walls. She presented shows there for decades, well into her 80s. There would come busloads of tourists, film crews and reporters. She’d tell her life story, threaded together by song and dance, making the costumes herself and designing the sets. This was her world and eventually the world came to see it, arriving sometimes in the black of night for the weekend performances at the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel. She carved out this corner of the world and defined the highway intersection at Death Valley Junction for decades.

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On the Monday morning following her death on January 30 at age 92, a small shrine of colored balloons, stuffed animals and plastic flowers sits near an engraved stone marker, given in celebration of Becket’s 90th birthday. LED tea light candles flicker in glass jars, and a red Mylar balloon with the words “I love you” clings to the ground.

Inside the aging one-story adobe hotel, fliers announce the tribute and memorial performance planned for the coming weekend. A woman vacuums the dark green carpet in the lobby, which features Becket’s old sequined hats and mesh costumes. Portraits of the dark-haired dancer in various stages hang beside the stone fireplace and above the dark wood paneling. Her artwork is replicated in prints for sale in the gift shop, along with videotapes, T-shirts and copies of her 2006 autobiography, To Dance on Sands

But, despite all the reminders, it feels lonely here knowing that the force of Marta Becket is gone.

She once said she wasn’t so sure the afterlife could be as beautiful as Death Valley Junction. Standing under a cloudy sky where the open desert continues forever in all directions, you almost agree. But the landscape is different now without its energetic, fiery star.

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