Marta Becket is her own best friend, and her splendid autobiography suggests that’s how it should be for anybody who fancies herself an artist, dancer, painter, composer, or writer — all of which, not coincidentally, Ms. Becket happens to be. Beyond mere autobiography, To Dance on Sands: The Life and Art of Death Valley’s Marta Becket, examines the ascetic lifestyle she chose and all its attendant self-sacrifices (including, for many years, love).
I first wrote about Ms. Becket and her work last March in my post “Are You Saved?” The subject of Todd Robinson’s exquisite documentary Amargosa, Ms. Becket is a New York City-born dancer who almost 40 years ago found herself smack-dab in the middle of some of the most godforsaken territory imaginable — Death Valley Junction, California — and never left. Ms. Becket, who turns 82 on August 9th, doesn’t rely on the town’s population (depending on your source, somewhere between two and twenty) to come see her dance, however. As in Field of Dreams, people come from around the world to witness what she has created. Death Valley Junction is her Iowa cornfield, and the amazing Amargosa Opera House is her baseball diamond.
Fans of Amargosa expecting To Dance on Sands to be fat with tales of her life in Death Valley may be disappointed, as it occupies only a single chapter. What comes before details the road traveled to get there, a path that proved that dancing wasn’t her only means of expression, and the decisions rendered along the way that ultimately determined the route she took. Ms. Becket’s story is a fascinating and compelling one, so much so that the occasionally clunky writing style is forgiven. What she’s writing about rises above any such shortcomings, and provides a handbook for anybody interested in art and the space it occupies in our lives.
Throughout her own life, Ms. Becket again and again confronts the question whether or not it is right for an artist to expect so much of one’s self at the expense of others. (While she painted the magnificent mural that graces her beloved opera house, her husband,whose love and devotion was always somewhat suspect, felt neglected and sought attention elsewhere.) She asks if what she does is “necessary” and wonders whether she might have been happier as “someone ordinary.”
Marta Becket asks the questions that all artists must ask themselves. Given her life and accomplishments, the answers are contained within her fine book.