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Struck With Memory Loss, A Dancer Remembers 'Swan Lake.' But Who Is She?

A touching video showing a former ballet dancer afflicted with memory loss gracefully dancing as she hears the music from Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake has gone viral worldwide.

The video was recently shared by the Asociación Música para Despertar, a Spanish organization that promotes music therapy for those afflicted by memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Since then, media organizations, celebrities and individuals across the globe have shared the video of former dancer Marta C. González.

The video is undoubtedly moving and uplifting, and it speaks to the power of music and dance for those suffering from memory loss. González elegantly moves her arms to the music, her eyes flashing with purpose. But many questions have arisen about González — and what the video purports to show.

Música para Despertar says that the video was taken in Valencia, Spain in 2019, and that González has since died. The charity also claims that González was a former prima ballerina with "the New York Ballet" in the 1960s. There is no such known company and the New York City Ballet does not list anyone by that name as one of its alumni.

Alastair Macaulay, a prominent dance critic formerly with The New York Times, has been chasing González's history and posting his findings to Instagram. On Tuesday, Macaulay posted that he has located a mysterious 1966 document, bearing what appears to be a Cuban governmental stamp, from a non-existent organization called "The Higher School for Professional Studies, Nueva York," saying that "Marta C. González Saldaña" could be called a "prima ballerina" in the "Ballet de las Américas" — but there is no such company in New York or anywhere else in the U.S.

Furthermore, the 2019 video of González is interspersed with archival clips of someone dancing, which casual viewers have assumed to be González performing at the peak of her career.

But it is apparently not González dancing — and the archival performance is not of Swan Lake, either. Macaulay says the clips are of a former prima ballerina from Russia's Mariinsky Ballet, Uliana Lopatkina — performing not Tchaikovsky's ballet, but the solo piece The Dying Swan, a dance set to music by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns from his longer piece Carnival of the Animals.

The Asociación Música para Despertar did not immediately respond to NPR's questions on Tuesday about the video and González.

The Alzheimer's Association notes that music can be an important form of therapy for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. No matter what González' personal history actually was, Tchaikovsky's music clearly evoked a strong, truly visceral response from this former dancer.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.