Touching Dance to Swan Lake Also Comes With a Mystery

Ballerina with Alzheimer's puts in a moving performance, but her identity is puzzling
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 11, 2020 10:15 AM CST

She was on death's doorstep. And still she danced. A moving video shared by the Asociacion Musica para Despertar, a Spanish organization that supports music therapy for those afflicted by memory loss, claims to show a former prima ballerina with Alzheimer's dancing a routine to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake from her wheelchair. Marta C. Gonzalez—who died in a care home in Valencia soon after the video was filmed in 2019, per the BBC—appears energized by the music, delivered via Musica para Despertar's director, Pepe Olmedo. She gracefully moves her arms, eyes bright. But little is known of Gonzalez's history. The clips of her are interspersed with footage of a ballerina many have assumed to be a younger Gonzalez. Instead, that woman is a former prima ballerina from Russia's Mariinsky Ballet, dancing a ballet known as The Dying Swan, not Swan Lake, per NPR.

The association says Gonzalez was with "the New York Ballet" in the 1960s, but there's no such company. And Gonzalez's name is missing from a list of alumni for the New York City Ballet. Dance critic Alastair Macaulay located a 1966 document from "The Higher School for Professional Studies, Nueva York" and its principal, Nikolai Yavorsky, claiming 19-year-old "Marta C. Gonzalez Saldana" was a prima ballerina in the "Ballet de las Americas." But "the only 'Ballet of Las Americas' [seems] to be in Mexico City (the Folklorico) and Bogota," Macaulay notes. He adds Yavorsky appears to have been a Russian ballet teacher who died in Cuba in 1947. The document appears to have a Cuban government stamp. Regardless, the video shows the power of music, dance, and the human spirit. Olmedo says it was one of "the most impressive moments that I have been able to live in all my life," per HuffPost. (Read more Alzheimer's disease stories.)

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