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Sarah Guillot-Guyard’s family ‘has been taken care of’ as Final Battle Scene returns to ‘Ka’

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Eric Jamison

Cirque du Soleil performers in “Ka” perform the final Epic Battle Scene during a media event Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, at MGM Grand.

‘Ka’ Final Battle Scene

Cirque du Soleil performers in Launch slideshow »

The Final Battle Scene is the great, deceptive moment in “Ka” at MGM Grand. The Cirque du Soleil artists appear to be fighting, the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys, in the production’s epic, show-closing conflict.

But the Final Battle, which returned to the stage last weekend, is not really a battle. Not in the Cirque world. Everyone onstage is working together, on the same side, to make sure the act looks like a high-flying gang fight. They stab at one another with spears, but behind every movement is a great measure of teamwork.

This sort of communal caring for Cirque artists is evident away from the stage, too. And in this insular, familiar circus culture, the company for whom Sarah Guillot-Guyard worked did not forget her family — specifically her two beautiful children. Guillot-Guyard was killed on June 29, 2013, after falling some 94 feet from the stage as it was positioned upright and facing the audience. The tragedy unfolded during the climactic Final Battle Scene.

Guillot-Guyard left behind two children, now ages 9 and 6. Soon after her death, Cirque officials began meeting with her ex-husband and father to the children, fellow “Ka” artist Mathieu Guyard.

“The family was taken care of, in all respects, and you know that when everything has been said, the children will be fine for their future,” Cirque du Soleil’s Montreal-based spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard said after a preview of the new Final Battle Scene at MGM Grand’s Ka Theater.

“Everyone is conscious that it had to be done, and it was not very difficult for us to say, ‘What can we do to help? And make sure we honored the children and honor the family’s request that the children be taken care of.”

When asked if the Cirque family worked directly with the artist’s family, Menard said, “Yes. Exactly.” The settlement was reached eight to 10 months ago, she said.

Evidence of the tightly knit Cirque community is that Kelly Tucker Guyard, the wife of Mathieu Guyard, also is a “Ka” artist who performs on the Final Battle wall. She was among the performers onstage for the media event re-introducing the show last Wednesday.

After an 18-month hiatus, the act was brought back into the show Friday night and again Saturday as part of its “incremental” return. It will be installed permanently beginning this Friday night. In its long hiatus, the Final Battle scene was first replaced by a scene dubbed the Dressing Ritual, then returned in video-projection form.

As the show regrouped, officials took measures to adjust how the act would be performed upon its return.

The tragedy that led to the death of Guillot-Guyard occurred when she was pulled at a high rate of speed up the wall while inside her motorized safety harness and carried by a thin wire cable. She struck the catwalk above the stage, which sent a shock wave through the cable, causing it to jar loose from its pulley wheel. That wheel collapsed forward, allowing the cable to jump free and find a sharp edge that cut the cable.

That severed the cord completely and allowed Guillot-Guyard to free-fall to the floor below the open stage. Among the new safety measures are a system to automatically slow the artists as they are hoisted toward that overhead platform. As always, performers are stationed at the top of the stage to help guide the artists to safety.

Known for their almost inhuman levels of precision, the tragedy shook the Cirque family. Mark-Antoine Picard, who is the act captain of the Final Battle Scene, was onstage the night of the tragedy. He plays the Counselor’s Son, the chief of the spearmen (leader of the Bad Guys, in other words), and faces down and toward the audience during much the act.

“I was in shock. You don’t expect something like that to happen, ever. Ever,” he said, adding that the Final Battle was Guillot-Guyard’s favorite scene and also a favorite among many of the artists, including himself. “It just happened like that (snaps fingers), and time stopped. It took about five minutes to put us back on the ground, and it was just a blur, that time.”

Al Light, the company’s head artistic coach, said the first step toward returning the act to the show was to open up communication among the artists. That proved not so difficult in the Cirque world.

“If there were concerns, we needed to get those out and learn how to express these concerns productively,” Light said. “What I found that’s great about this group in particular is they are very open with people to begin with. They are performers, you know, and when you are onstage — especially in Cirque du Soleil — you have to open yourself up to the audience. These performers were already used to being open and exposing their own vulnerabilities as performers.”

At the heart of Cirque’s artistry, in its shows all along the Strip and around the world, is a high level of risk. One of its acts is actually titled “The Wheel of Death,” and when you invite such terms as “death defying” to a stage show, the artists do willfully accept dangerous possibilities.

“You could call it ‘personal risk tolerance,’ and everyone has their own personal risk tolerance,” Light said. “Most people in this field are more tolerant of risks than the average person, by nature. … That’s what makes all of this possible. These are incredible people, but even though they do incredible things, they are still people.”

And sometimes, in the high-precision world of Cirque du Soleil, that quality is sometimes lost. But in “Ka,” the people have come together — and are advancing in a new Final Battle that has just begun.

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

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