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November 26, 2014

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OSHA investigating death of ‘Ka’ artist; MGM Grand show closes at least through July 9

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David Fox

Sarah (Sasoun) Guillot-Guyard after an end-of-session performance with her students at Cirquefit in Las Vegas on Saturday, June 29, 2013, just hours before her death.

Final Battle scene

‘Ka’ at MGM Grand

Sarah Guyard-Guillot, left, and Sami Tiaumassi perform as Launch slideshow »

Occupational safety inspectors have launched an investigation into the death of a 31-year-old Cirque du Soleil performer who fell to her death Saturday night during the climactic closing scene in "Ka," when the stage is raised vertically and combatants wearing harnesses move about on cables.

A Nevada OSHA spokeswoman and an official with Cirque du Soleil said Monday that they would not predict when the investigation would be completed. The show is dark at least through July 9.

Sarah Guyard-Guillot, a mother of two children ages 8 and 5, was performing in the 7 p.m. show Saturday at MGM Grand when she fell an estimated 50 feet to a pit below the stage and out of the audience's view. Her anguished cries and moans were heard throughout the hushed theater as the performance was halted. Fellow performers watched helplessly from above before being lowered to the ground, and the audience was ushered out. She was pronounced dead at 11:43 p.m. at University Medical Center.

A tribute and memorial website, ForSasoun.com, has been flooded with condolences and reflections for Guyard-Guillot, who was known as Sasoun and had coached at a Cirque du Soleil acrobatics school earlier in the day. One comment read, "Sarah, you were a blessing wrapped in angel wings with the heart of gold. May you know how much love surrounds you still. Your aerials are dreams to millions of watchers, and you touched our souls. You will be greatly missed. My heart is broken for your family and friends. Spread your wings and fly."

Another read, "I can’t believe I’ll never again see your smiling face behind that mask of warrior paint. Or hear your infectious laugh. I will dearly miss your sky-high platforms, clunking into dressing room D, making those child-sized flared jeans look a foot longer. I will miss you asking me clarification about English cuss words so you could more effectively banter with Julie and Zula. Most of all, I will miss your unbreakable spirit. You were, and always in my heart will be, among the most badass of badasses. The tiny, hard-bodied girl who kept the boys in Climb at the top of their game. If I ever grow to be half the badass that I knew you to be, I can pass into the unknown a happy girl. So much love forever."

Guyard-Guillot was born in Paris and had spent more than 22 years as an acrobatic performer. She was a graduate of Annie Fratellini Art & Circus Academy, named for the famed French circus clown and actress. The official website for Cirqeufit acrobatics school in Las Vegas, where Guyard-Guillot served as a coach, said she was an acrobatic and aerialist specialist. She was hired by "Ka" as the production opened at MGM Grand in 2006.

It is the first reported death from an accident onstage in Cirque's history. The company was founded in 1984.

According to reports from audience members, the incident occurred Saturday night during the latter stages of the production at MGM Grand. Guyard-Guillot was one of the artists suspended by a wire from the show’s vertical stage in the show-closing Final Battle scene. As she ascended to the top of the stage, she slipped free of her safety wire and dropped to the open, unseen pit below the performers.

After the incident, one eyewitness seated in the middle of the audience and just a few rows from the lip of the stage said Guyard-Guillot dropped from the left side of the set (or on the right side, as audience members face the production) over a distance of at least 50 feet. Later, audience members said she fell from a far greater distance, possibly up to 100 feet.

In the Final Battle act, performers wear harnesses that are clipped to cables, and that apparatus is designed to keep them in position and bounce along the stage. Guyard-Guillot was reportedly still in her harness when she fell from the stage. One witness said she cartwheeled during the long plummet.

The show momentarily continued, but then the music halted, and the performer’s screams and groans could be heard from below the stage.

“(The artist) was being hoisted up the side of the stage and then just plummeted down,” said Dan Mosqueda, visiting with his wife and 10-year-old son from Colorado Springs, Colo. “Initially, a lot of people in the audience thought it was part of the choreographed fight. But you could hear screaming, then groaning, and we could hear a female artist crying from the stage.” Mosqueda’s wife, Annie, has a background in theater and tweeted about the incident soon after it occurred.

Minutes after the artist’s fall, a recorded announcement was played on the theater’s sound system informing ticket-buyers that refunds or vouchers to future shows would be offered to those in the audience, and the crowd was dismissed.

Cirque released a statement Sunday afternoon: “The entire Cirque du Soleil family is deeply saddened by the accidental death of Sarah (Sassoon) Guyard, artist on the production 'Ka,' that happened on Saturday, June 29, in Las Vegas. The artist's immediate family has been informed of the accident. Our thoughts are with her family and the entire Cirque du Soleil family.

“We have been working with the appropriate authorities and have offered our full cooperation. Performances of 'Ka' will be canceled until further notice.”

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte said: “I am heartbroken. I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to the family. We are all completely devastated with this news. Sassoon was an artist with the original cast of 'Ka' 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.”

MGM Resorts International, Cirque's artistic and business partner in Las Vegas, said in a statement:

"Our company is deeply saddened by the loss of one of the talented 'Ka' artists Saturday night. The thoughts and prayers of our employees are with the performer's family, the cast of 'Ka' and the entire Cirque family during this difficult time."

It was the second time in less than a week that a Cirque show on the Strip was halted for an accident involving one of its artists.

On Wednesday night, a performer in one of the final preview performances of “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay suffered a mild concussion after slipping through the slack rope in the show’s “Stranger in Moscow” scene, missing the protective pad below the act and landing hard upon the stage. That performer is expected to return to the show.

Two artists in "Zumanity" at New York-New York were seriously injured in an onstage fall in November 2007. The tragic "Ka" incident coincided with the celebration of the celebrity-laden world premiere of “Michael Jackson One” at Mandalay Bay, which drew top officials from Cirque .

During the red-carpet walk before the 7 p.m. premiere performance of "Michael Jackson One," Cirque President Daniel Lamarre was asked about the danger the company’s artists face. He also said the reason Cirque does not release names of artists injured onstage is so officials can first notify their families when such an incident occurs.

“The one thing that people maybe don’t realize is how hurt we are when something like that happens,” Lamarre said, standing just a few feet off the red carpet. “It’s almost like a family member. We are protective of the artist, first and foremost, and keep focus on the artist.”

Guyard-Guillot's passion for her craft was in step with those of the city's most imaginative and successful artistic company. One of her posts on her Facebook page is a quote shared on International Working Women's Day. It reads: "Dream the dreams that have never been dreamt."

Sun reporter Ed Komenda contributed to this report.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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