OSHA investigates woman aerialist falling death in Cirque du Soleil show KÀ

WNN – GlobalARTS

Backstage at Cirque du Soleil show 'Ka'
Backstage at Cirque du Soleil stage production KÀ in Las Vegas, Nevada the engineering equipment is an important part of the show providing special effects and safety features to the operational aspects of the performance, like the dangerous 70 ft vertical sand wall where performer Sarah Guyard-Guillot fell to her death on Saturday June 29, 2013. Image: CirqueLV

Story update: Since this deadly accident happened Cirque du Soleil has put larger safety measures in place and has been cleared by OSHA to revive and go public again with the show KÀ.

(WNN) Las Vegas, Nevada, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: As concern grows for possible dangers to performers in the acclaimed performing company known as Cirque du Soleil, on the death of french acrobatic star and veteran aerialist Sarah ‘Sassoon’ Guyard-Guillot during her performance on Saturday night June 29, 2013, the company is now cooperating fully with Las Vegas, Nevada Clark County Coroner’s office as well as the office of the United States Department of Labor OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in Las Vegas, as they close what The New York Times has described as the 200 million dollar production for the popular show KÀ indefinitely.

Paris-born 31-year-0ld mother of two, Guyard-Guillot, was a talented 22 year performance veteran. She died after a fall that was estimated by observers to be over 50 feet from her high perch during her part in the finale performance in KÀ in the MGM Grand hotel and casino theater in Las Vegas.

Pronounced dead by the University Medical Center in Las Vegas at 11:43 p.m. Saturday, those who worked with Guyard-Guillot were in shock. Because of the dare-devil aerial acrobatics in most of Cirque’s shows, many people in the audience during Guyard-Guillot’s fall were not aware at first what had happened. But those working on stage did. A woman staff-member is said to have been heard crying from the stage immediately after Guyard-Guillot’s fall.

Guyard-Guillot had been working for Cirque for seven years when she died on the night of June 29.

In spite of the tragic death Cirque du Soleil is rallying fans worldwide who support the artistic efforts of the performers. While injuries have occurred during Cirque’s international training sessions, this is first death during a performance that has ever happened in its 29 year run. At its beginnings in the early 1980s Cirque was a mixture of circus arts and street entertainment that grew exponentially over the years. Today it has become the producers of some of the highest rated shows that include technology, athleticism and spectacle in the world.

“I am heartbroken. I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to the family,” said Cirque du Soleil Founder Guy Laliberté in a press statement, after the news of Guyard-Guillot’s death was made public. “We are all completely devastated with this news. Sassoon was an artist with the original cast of KÀ since 2006 and has been an integral part of our Cirque du Soleil tight family. We are reminded, with great humility and respect, how extraordinary our artists are each and every night. Our focus now is to support each other as a family,” Laliberté continued.

Sarah 'Sassoon' Guyard-Guillot photo image
Cirque du Soleil seasoned aerialist Sarah Guyard-Guillot fell to her death under circumstances that are now being investigated. Image: Terra

Even though the 1 billion dollar company has managed 19 shows in over 270 cities worldwide, some reports are saying the company is not making the same amount of money in clear profits it once did. Last year, according to Bloomberg News, the company had to lay off 50 performers, with plans for 400 additional layoffs planned for the future, although these layoffs will be limited mostly to Cirque’s Montreal headquarters staff.

The online jobs page for Cirque du Soleil though is still showing job openings for aerialists.

“We’re looking for dynamic, experienced, physically fit aerial performers with very good upper body strength and strong technique and spatial orientation. Our aerial performers should possess an extensive repertoire, demonstrate a high level of execution, be comfortable with heights and have a strong stage presence. If you’ve created your own original act, we’d love to hear about it!,” says the page on their site that describes the type of aerialists the company are looking for.

With a strong international fan base the performances will go on as the demand for the artistry of Cirque is not going away through this tragedy.

“My son, a member of Cirq family, was on stage with Sara. The trauma is huge. The cast is distraught. Please do not push too hard during this time of mourning. Such a horrific unnecessary equipment failure causing Sara’s death . My heart goes out to the family of KÀ with enormous love and respect,” says Terri Porcarelli, the mother of one of the Cirque performers, in a recent comment made Monday July 1 on Cirque du Soleil’s Facebook page.

Investigations into the accident will most likely be looking into the acrobatic equipment and rigging design by Cirque du Soleil rigging designer Jaque Paquin.

“There’s no formal training for a profession like Jaque Paquin’s. ‘To do it, you have to do it,’ he says. Jaque studied art history (specializing in film) and electronics in school, and began his career in the arts working as a lighting technician at the age of 14. The following year, he opened a disco,” says Cirque du Soleil’s Creators webpage for ‘Ka’.

“Whether working on the rigging for a show or as head of research and development for Cirque du Soleil‘s acrobatic equipment, Jaque is constantly on the lookout for ways to give a new look to a wide variety of circus arts. However, he says, ‘There’s never any compromise for safety. If an artistic vision can be achieved only by lowering the safety standards, then that element of the show will be dropped’,” continued the description of Paquin’s work on Cirque du Soleil’s website.

In spite of the tragedy in the death of aerialist Sarah ‘Sassoon’ Guyard-Guillot, safety and experience for performers is very important to the training staff at Cirque du Soleil. Before new acrobats, and/or aerialists are hired they must go through a series of stringent medical tests that include scans, including an MRI, to check for any possible skeletal of organ vulnerabilities that may cause problems within the stress of training and performing.


This video, produced by Cirque du Soleil, shows the detailed and long process new hired staff stage members go through as they become bonifide Cirque acrobatic performers for future show assignments.


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No part of the text in this article release may be used or reproduced in any way without prior permissions from WNN. Copyright for the video in this story belongs to Cirque du Soleil productions.