Local dance studio to celebrate famous artist

SYV Star Staff Report

Dancers around the world are mourning the death of Marta Becket, who owned, operated and performed at the unique Amargosa Opera House in isolated Death Valley Junction for more than 40 years. She died in February at the age of 92.

Local ballet teacher Christine Fossemalle is organizing a celebration of life on April 22 at her studio for her mentor and friend, whom she met more than 25 years ago.

Local dance teacher Christine Fossemalle hands a bouquet of flowers to famed dancer and teacher Marta Becket at her Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction after Becket danced the last performance of her “Sitting Down Show.”

“It was customary for her to greet her audience, speak with them, and we had an immediate connection because of our love for ballet. From then on, I brought many groups of students to witness her performances and her accomplishments, in addition to being present at … opening and closing-night performances of each new season,” Fossemalle said.

Becket was a dancer at Radio City Music Hall and on Broadway, appearing in “Showboat,” “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “A Wonderful Town.” Then she decided she wanted to operate her own stage, according to the Amargosa website.

In the spring of 1967, Becket and her husband were camping in Death Valley when their trailer had a flat tire and they were directed to Death Valley Junction.

As she waited for repairs, Becket walked around the town and found a broken-down theater. For $45 a month, they leased the building, renamed it the Amargosa Opera House, and presented their first show on Feb. 10, 1968.

In January 1983, Becket’s husband left to follow other interests, but Thomas J. “Wilget” Willett stepped in as stage manager and emcee and stayed with her until his death in 2005. A natural comedian, Willett acted as a performing stage manager, playing parts, co-starring with Becket, and adding humor to the classical ambience of the performances.

As she aged, Becket continued dancing and created roles more suited to her abilities till she developed a “Sitting Down Show” with various characters, singing and acting, allowing her to perform till 2012.

“Besides being an incredibly talented artist living for her art, she truly taught me and countless others to have a dream and follow it despite all obstacles … always looking at the positive aspect and pursuing your goal and passion,” Fossemalle said.

Fossemalle came to the United States to study jazz after an injury from ballet. She studied in New York City with famed choreographers Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

Then she ventured out West and found Santa Ynez by chance. A space for rent on Sagunto Street, which is now Valley Grind, was her first location when she opened in June 1986. She now has a larger studio on Numancia Street, just around the corner.

For more information on the Amargosa Opera House, log onto www.amargose-opera-house.com. To contribute to Becket’s legacy, contact Fossemalle at amargosaoperahousefund@gmail.com.