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Ballerina Marta Becket, Amargosa Opera House dancer

Becket founded and danced at the Amargosa Opera

Becket founded and danced at the Amargosa Opera House. Photo Credit: AP / Sam Morris

LAS VEGAS — Marta Becket, a dancer and artist who spent decades presenting one-woman shows at a remote Mojave Desert hall that she made famous as the Amargosa Opera House, has died.

Becket died Monday at her home in Death Valley Junction, California, said Jeff Mullenhour, the Inyo County deputy coroner in Lone Pine, California. She was 92.

Becket was born in Manhattan, where she performed on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall. A flat tire during a 1967 camping trip with her husband to Death Valley, California, changed her life.

They discovered an abandoned theater in an old borax mining company town near the California-Nevada state line, about 95 miles west of Las Vegas.

The couple rented the building, and Marta Becket made her debut in 1968 at the renamed Amargosa Opera House. In the beginning, only the three Mormon families who lived in the town at that time came to watch.

The nearest town is 23 miles away from the opera house, but audiences filled its 114 theater seats so many times over the years that extra chairs sometimes had to be brought in.

Becket wrote songs, dialogue, sewed costumes and painted sets. She danced every Monday, Friday and Saturday whether the house was full or empty — as if thousands were watching.

She spent six years drawing and painted imaginary fans on the opera house’s walls and painted the ceiling with a blue sky, dancing cherubs, clouds and doves.

“I love dance. I love ballet. It’s the world I want,” she told The Associated Press 2001. “It’s mystifying. I feel as if this is what I was intended to do.”

Her husband left in 1983, leaving Becket and her longtime friend, emcee, stagehand, stage manager and silent sidekick Tom Willett as the town’s only residents. Willett died in 2005.

Becket continued to dance well into her 80s, although health problems slowed her in later years. She gave a final performance in February 2012, before turning the theater over to a nonprofit group.

Her story was captured in 2000 in the award-winning documentary “Amargosa.”

Becket’s autobiography, “To Dance on Sands,” was published in 2006.

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