Monday, 11 February 2008

To Each Artist His (or Her) Own

I was born an artist. I have been an actor, a musician, a poet, a novelist, a sketcher, a playwright, a director, a filmmaker, a photographer, a graphic designer, a dancer...I don't think any artist ever pursues just one art. We have a need to express ourselves through these mediums; we have messages and beauty we want to share with the world. Those of you who are fellow artists innately understand what I mean.

So for those of you who are artists, or those of you who appreciate art, here is a story for you. It's a little on the long side, so make sure you've got a few minutes before starting it, but I found it truly charming. Here's to following dreams, and finding the artist in each of us.

"Diva of the Desert"

In the scorched wasteland of Death Valley, California, lies one of the most unusual theaters in America: the Amargosa Opera House. The quirk is that no opera is ever performed there - only ballet. And there is only one performer: a prima ballerina named Marta Becket, who at 79 years of age still performs her solo show in the desert, as she has for the last 38 years.

In 1967 Becket, a dancer and artist from New York, was on a camping trip in the desert with her husband. When they had a flat tire on their trailer, a local park ranger told them they could get it fixed in Death Valley Junction. The town had been built in the 1920s by the Pacific Coast Borax Company to house its mine workers...Aside from the old company offices, there was a 23-room hotel with a lavishly painted lobby, still open for business, and something that really caught [Marta's] eye: a rundown community center known as Corkhill Hall.

Peeking through a hold in Corkhill's door, she saw a small stage with tattered cotton curtains. Trash was strewn between the wooden benches that faced the stage. Marta said later, "Peering through the tiny hole, I had the distinct feeling that I was looking at the other half of myself. The building seemed to be saying, 'take something with me...I offer you life.'"

Marta...rented the hall for $45 a month. Six months later, on February 10, 1968, she gave her first performance. There were 12 people in the audience, all of them locals curious to see what the peculiar lady from New York was up to. Occasionally, curious tourists would wander in. Sometimes no on was there at all. Marta always performed no matter what. One night she had just begun her performance to an empty house when four people came in. They sat quietly, applauded politely at the curtain call, and left. Becket thought nothing of it until a few months later, when an article about her appeared in National Geographic magazine. After that, audiences grew. Locals kept coming back; at first they came to gawk and laugh, but left strangely moved by the sight of this intense woman following her muse wherever it led her.

Although age has forced her to cut back the number of performances she gives each week (she only performs on weekends now) she still begins promptly at 8:15pm.

"I am grateful," she says, "to have found the place where I can fulfill my dreams and share them with the passing scene...for as long as I can."

No comments: