Friday, July 5, 2013 | 6 p.m.
Cindy Jackson’s 5-year-old son trained with Sarah Guillot-Guyard at the Fit Labs and Studio 222 in Las Vegas as part of the CirqueFit training program.
“She was a force,” Jackson said Wednesday outside a private vigil at the studios on West Flamingo Road. Dozens of well-wishers, many of them performers in Cirque du Soleil shows on the Strip, attended the informal memorial. “She told the kids, ‘If you want it, you have to fight for it.’ She had a tightrope and would jump up on it and tell them that. ‘It’s not just going to come. You have to work for it,’ She was tough that way.”
A teacher and artist cast in the Cirque production “Ka” at MGM Grand, Guillot-Guyard died Saturday night after a fall of 90 feet from the show’s moveable stage, which had been lifted into its vertical position during the climactic Final Battle scene. OSHA is currently investigating her death, and Cirque has shut down the show indefinitely. Guillot-Guyard is survived by her ex-husband, fellow “Ka” performer Mathieu Guyard, and the couple’s two children ages 8 and 5.
The owners of the fitness center where Guillot-Guyard taught are establishing a scholarship in the artist’s name to assist kids who want to learn acrobatic arts whose families can’t afford to fully pay for training. A fundraiser is set for July 27 at Fit Labs and Studio 222 at 8645 W. Flamingo Road, Suite 104 in Las Vegas. The hours are noon-2 p.m. The format is an athletic challenge in which participants will generate sponsorships for specific gymnastics feats — $1 per cartwheel, for example.
All money will be donated to the new Sasoun Scholarship Fund. Other details are still to be finalized; for information, click to the For Sasoun memorial website. Also, a website for direct donations to the late artist’s families has been posted at ForSasoun.com.
Determining what went wrong during that final scene will likely take weeks, at least, but preliminary reports are that investigators have been reviewing the rigging apparatus that linked Guillot-Guyard to her safety harness. A small electric-powered motor and wire cables are used to hoist the performers up the stage, and it was during that process that Guillot-Guyard’s wire cable reportedly snapped or disconnected.
The safety equipment used in the Final Battle scene is that rigging and harness apparatus. Inflatable bags are used throughout the show as safety precautions and to catch performers during choreographed falls. As Cirque spokeswoman Rene-Claude Menard said Wednesday, two types of safety equipment are used in the show: Mats, for free falls, and harnesses when the performers are not performing those choreographed falls. As has been reported by those in the audience who witnessed the fall, Guillot-Guyard was still wearing her harness when she fell into the open pit below the vertical stage.
(To clarify a few points on previous reporting of the tragic incident: Guillot-Guyard’s surname has been listed in various ways, as Guyard-Guillot on the CirqueFit website and Guyard Guillot on her personal Facebook page and also Facebook tribute page launched in her memory. Cirque has previously used her married name, Sarah Guyard, in its references. The Clark County Coroner’s official version is Guillot-Guyard, which is what we are using now. She was also known by the nicknames Sassoon and Sasoun, hence the name of the memorial website, Also, Guillot-Guyard was reportedly a member of the show’s original cast. “Ka” opened for previews in October 2004 and its premiere was February 2005. Guillot-Guyard was considered a member of the original cast and joined the show in 2006.)
Those attending Wednesday’s memorial expressed disbelief that they were mourning her death.
“There are a lot of children’s tears,” Jackson said, describing the scene inside the private event. “It’s really bad.”
James Wong, owner of The Fit Center and 222 Studios (the two fitness centers are connected in the same strip mall) spoke with her Saturday before she left for the show.
“There was nothing earth-shaking about what we talked about. It was like any other normal conversation,” Wong said while meeting members of the media outside the private event. “We were talking about what are we going to do on Monday? What’s her schedule like for July? Things like that.”
Wong said parents of students ages 5 to 11 years old trusted Guillot-Guyard with the care of their children. She was known as a tough but fair teacher and coach.
“She was a strict instructor, you know, and like any coach you have to expect your students to perform and do the drills … Sarah was a world-class athlete, I can tell you that. She was a superior athlete and a superior person,” Wong said. “The magic thing about Sarah is she was running a circus class. To make that popular, here, you don’t just run a class. You give something to these kids and something to these parents.
“That’s what she was doing. She was giving them this dream of being in the circus.”