Fossemalle and the free spirit


Out among Death Valley’s jackrabbits and lizards, where the day’s high temperature in May is 110 degrees, travelers might not expect to see an opera house, but there is one.

It’s called the Amargosa Opera House, and it sits in the heat and barrenness of the California desert, a tribute to one artistic woman’s strange dream.

The woman is Marta Becket, who created her desert theater almost 41 years ago.  A tribute to her is planned for Saturday, June 28, at the Park Plaza Theaters in Buellton.

Spearheading the tribute is Christine Fossemalle, of Fossemalle Dance Studio in Santa Ynez. She will screen a film called “Amargosa” about Becket’s one-woman theatrical enterprise.


“I’ve known her for twenty years,” Fossemalle said this week. “I have gone to see her (in Death Valley) many times, and I have taken students to see her, and to be inspired.”

Fossemalle cherishes Becket for maintaining a unique artistic presence in a barren waste.

Not only has Becket performed ballet through the years at her theater, she has painted its interior with a Renaissance Court for an audience, as well as elaborate scenes and decorations on the walls.

“She’s an amazing artist,” Fossemalle said. “She is so dedicated to her art. This is an inspiring movie, and it will encourage anyone to follow their dream, no matter what.”

Becket, who is 84 years old, continued to dance en pointe until two years ago, when the years and the stress on her knees finally took a toll.


“Now she sits in a chair and presents her show,” Fossemalle said. “She does this only during the season, of course, from October to May.” The rest of the time, she stays in the dessert and paints, oil on canvas.

In announcing plans for the film showing, Fossemalle told glowingly of Becket’s beginnings as a desert theater entrepreneur.

Becket and her then-husband, Tom Williams, were camping in Death Valley in 1967 and had a flat tire. Becket saw the crumbling adobe buildings and was smitten, especially with the theater.


Over the years, Becket has attracted some attention with her unusual combination of Death Valley life-on-the-edge and maintaining the arts in a most unlikely setting, according to Fossemalle. But she could use an injection of money, which is where the film showing comes in.

Amargosa” was a finalist in the 2000 Academy Awards competition. Proceeds from the showing on Saturday will go toward creating “Marta’s Museum at Death Valley Junction.”

Tickets are available at Fossemalle Dance Studios, 688-8494.

Any remaining unsold will be available at the movie theater on Saturday at 9 a.m., when the movie will be shown.