McClintock comes home to the Amargosa Opera House

Dancer Jenna McClintock is coming home to the Amargosa Opera House this Friday and bringing her Teatro El Grande troupe with her for a limited three-week engagement.

McClintock was 6 years old the first time she saw Marta Becket dance ballet at the Opera House and “it lit a flame in my heart,” she said. Inspired by Becket, she begged her parents to let her take ballet lessons. By the time she was 14, she had joined the Oakland Ballet Company and went on to perform with other ballet companies as an adult.

In 2014, McClintock visited Death Valley Junction to return to the source of her inspiration. She and Becket, then nearly 90 years old, discovered they were kindred spirits and Becket invited McClintock to dance on the Opera House stage. McClintock performed many of Becket’s signature choreographies as well as one or two of her own on the opera house stage for two and a half years.

McClintock left Death Valley Junction in 2016 and went on to create her own homegrown desert theater performance group, Teatro El Grande, in Tecopa. It is made up of local residents who sing, dance, pantomime, play instruments, read poetry, and sometimes do hoop dancing or other performance art.

Teatro El Grande was designed as a mobile show, McClintock said, and made its debut in a large canvas tent. It was only fitting, she said, that Teatro’s first stop outside of Tecopa was Marta Becket’s Amargosa Opera House.

“It’s like coming home to Grandma’s house,” McClintock said, adding that, although she was born and raised in the city, the desert has always felt like home to her.

The Teatro engagement will include McClintock solo performing some of Becket’s best-known dances, including Gossip, which McClintock said, was one of Becket’s favorites, and Romance, one of Becket’s earliest creations.

Returning to the Opera House stage with Teatro, she said, adds “a whole bunch of goodness” to the show. “Everything that’s happened in my life, in a way,” McClintock said, “began right here.”

The Teatro performance brings this season to a close for the Opera House, said AOH governing board president Fred Conboy, and he will be spending the summer coordinating with a variety of other dancers, musicians and performers to schedule shows for next season.

When dancer Hilda Vasquez, who was Becket’s protégé before her death in 2017, left to attend university, said Conboy, the Opera House board and staff began rethinking the future of the Opera House stage. They’ve decided to take a somewhat different approach for the 2018-2019 season.

“We are often contacted by performers and artists who have shows they want to perform here,” Conboy said, “and this is a way the Opera House is going to live and breathe.” This is a new approach, so it will take some time to plan and strategize the best ways to make it work, Conboy said.

He has already been in contact with a number of individual performers and theater groups, including return engagements of NanUke and the Apologies, possibly a new play by Daniel Stallings, creator of the Murder Mystery Opera performed at the Opera House in April, and other opera and ballet companies.

And, of course, said both Conboy and McClintock, they hope that she and the Teatro group will be coming back to the Opera House for future engagements.

“We welcome her back,” Conboy said. “She has a wonderfully creative show of her own making. Jenna is dedicated to her art.”

For the Opera House board, scheduling new shows is a tricky business, Conboy said.

The Opera House itself is a delicate work of art and any performance has to take that into account. And, said Conboy, he has to be careful to maintain a balance between filling the seats and overwhelming the infrastructure at the old and crumbling adobe complex. He and manager Bobbi Fabian are always mindful of the limitations of this historic property.

Their top concern, day to day, Conboy said, is keeping up with repairs, though he hopes someday to get ahead of the repairs and actually be able to make improvements and renovations.

The Opera House theater, said Conboy, is where Marta Becket’s spirit and inspiration can come alive and affect audiences in so many ways. “Marta was about fostering creativity in other people,” Conboy said, “she wanted people to be inspired by her performance and her paintings.”

In choosing acts to perform on the Opera House stage, Conboy said he considers first whether they fit in some way with Becket’s classical vision, whether they honor the ‘beauty of the past, without which our lives would have no meaning’, as Becket painted on a scroll in one of the Opera House murals.

But he also, he said, keeps in mind the spirit of Becket’s work in Death Valley Junction. “Here she was free to be free, to create what she wanted to create, that’s why she was here.” And Conboy said he hopes the Opera House can provide a venue for other artists to find similar expression.

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