LAS VEGAS — The founder of Cirque du Soleil says his tight-knit performance company, renowned for extravagant shows that challenge the boundaries of the body and the stage, is "completely devastated" after a veteran acrobat died in Las Vegas in a fall witnessed by the audience.
Coroner's officials said Sarah Guillot-Guyard, 31, was pronounced dead at a hospital late Saturday night shortly after falling about 50 feet from the show's stage during a production of "Ka" at the MGM Grand.
"I am heartbroken," Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte said in a statement. "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."
While Cirque performers defy gravity every show – soaring over audiences, scaling vertical walls and dangling aloft in aerial ballets – the incident was the first stage casualty in the company's 29-year history, according to Cirque spokeswoman Renee-Claude Menard.
Witnesses told the Las Vegas Sun ( ) that the accident occurred during a fight scene near the end of the "Ka," which combines acrobatics with martial arts and puppetry and tells the story of two imperial twins on a quest to reclaim their Far East palace from evil warriors. http://bit.ly/14H3Te0
Visitor Dan Mosqueda of Colorado Springs, Colo., said the woman was being hoisted up the side of the stage when it appeared that she detached from her safety wire and plummeted to an open pit below the stage.
"Initially, a lot of people in the audience thought it was part of the (show)," he told the Sun. "But you could hear screaming, then groaning, and we could hear a female artist crying from the stage."
The show momentarily continued, then stopped. Minutes after the accident, a recorded announcement informed audience members that refunds or vouchers to future shows would be offered, and the crowd was dismissed.
Clark County coroner's officials say they expect to rule on the official cause of death Tuesday. Nevada officials said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the incident, and Cirque officials promised their full cooperation.
Menard said Guillot-Guyard didn't slip out of her harness, but couldn't provide additional information about what led to the deadly fall. OSHA's conclusions aren't expected for months.
Guillot-Guyard, a mother of two, had been with the original cast of "Ka" since 2006, and had been an acrobatic performer for more than 20 years, according to Cirque officials. Born in Paris, she is also listed as the head coach at Cirquefit, a program that offers acrobatic fitness classes for children.
On a memorial website in her honor, commenters thanked her for inspiring their children, recalled her "infectious laugh" and poured out their condolences in English and French.
The accident occurred while Cirque's top executives, including president Daniel Lamarre, were in Las Vegas to celebrate the premiere of "Michael Jackson One" at Mandalay Bay.
While accidents are rare – and until now, never fatal – they do happen. On Wednesday night, a performer in a preview of "Michael Jackson One" suffered a mild concussion after missing the protective pad below an act and landing on the stage. That artist is expected to return to the show.
"The reason there's been so few accidents is they pay so much attention to safety," said Larry Lester, who has worked in theater and previously oversaw live action shows at Universal Studios before launching an entertainment design firm. "They're constantly looking at that. They're constantly practicing."
Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil was established in 1984 and now includes more than 1,300 artists, according to its website. "Ka" is one of 20 shows playing around the world this year – eight of which are based in Las Vegas.
"Cirque du Soleil is at the very pinnacle at these types of shows," Lester said.
No reopening date has been set for "Ka," Menard said.
L'Wren Scott, fashion designer and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger's longtime girlfriend, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/17/lwren-scott-dead_n_4979957.html" target="_blank">was found dead in NYC on March 17, 2014</a> of an apparent suicide.
David Brenner, the lanky, toothy-grinned "Tonight Show" favorite whose brand of observational comedy became a staple for other standups, including Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser, died on March 15, 2014. He was 78.
Comedy legend <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/24/harold-ramis-dead-dies_n_4847853.html" target="_blank">Harold Ramis died on Feb. 24, 2014</a>. He was 69.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/sid-caesar-dead-dies_n_4775892.html" target="_blank">The comedy legend died on Feb. 12, 2014</a>. He was 91.
Shirley Temple Black, iconic child star and former U.S. ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/11/shirley-temple-dead-child-star-ambassador-dies_n_4765333.html?1392116282&ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009" target="_blank">died on Feb. 10, 2014 in California</a>, The Associated Press reported. Her cause of death was not released. She was 85.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/02/philip-seymour-hoffman-dead-dies_n_4713623.html" target="_blank">Hoffman was found dead of an apparent heroin overdose</a> on Feb. 2, 2014 in New York City. He was 46 years old.
The American troubadour, folk singer and activist Seeger died Jan. 27, 2014, at age 94.
Avery died at the age of 68 from complications following open heart surgery in a Los Angeles suburb hospital on Dec. 31, 2013
Price died on Dec. 16, 2013 at his Texas home after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.
The legendary actor of the stage and screen died on Dec. 14, 2013 following a long illness. He was 81.
After suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Mandela died on Dec. 5, 2013 at the age of 95.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/30/paul-walker-dead_n_4366214.html?utm_hp_ref=celebrity" target="_blank">Walker died in a car crash on Nov. 30, 2013</a>, his rep confirmed. He was 40.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/27/lou-reed-dead_n_4167976.html" target="_blank">Reed died of a "liver-related ailment"</a> on Oct. 27, 2013 at the age of 71.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/26/maria-wallace-dead-simpsons_n_4166343.html" target="_blank">Wallace died of complications due to pneumonia</a> on Oct. 25, 2013 at the age of 70.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/16/ed-lauter-dead-dies_n_4111710.html" target="_blank">Veteran character actor Lauter died of mesothelioma</a>, a rare form of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos exposure, on Oct. 16, 2013. He was 74.
Choreographer and dance instructor Patsy Swayze, the mother of late actor Patrick Swayze, died Sept. 16, 2013. She was 86. No cause of death was given.
Jackie Lomax, a singer-songwriter who worked with The Beatles and enjoyed a long solo career, died Sept. 15, 2013 following a brief illness. He was 69.
Lee Thompson Young
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/19/lee-thompson-young-dead_n_3780781.html?ref=topbar" target="_blank">"The Famous Jett Jackson" star was found dead</a> in his apartment by his landlord in Los Angeles on Aug. 19, 2013. Young's rep confirmed that he took his own life. He was 29.
Lisa Robin Kelly
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/lisa-robin-kelly-dead_n_3763163.html" target="_blank">The former "That '70s Show" actress died</a> at the age of 43 on Aug. 14, 2013. According to TMZ, Kelly died in her sleep at a rehab facility in California.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/14/gia-allemand-dead_n_3756940.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular" target="_blank">"The Bachelor" star died from an apparent suicide</a> on Aug. 14, 2013. She was 29.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/02/michael-ansara-dead-dies_n_3697009.html" target="_blank">The "Star Trek" actor died</a> on July 31, 2013 at the age of 91.
Radio personality <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/kidd-kraddick-dead_n_3665417.html" target="_blank">David "Kidd" Kraddick died July 27, 2013</a> at age 53.
Cale, the singer-songwriter and producer known as the main architect of the Tulsa Sound, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/27/jj-cale-dead-dies_n_3664256.html" target="_blank">died on July 26, 2013</a>. His manager, Mike Kappus, said he died of a heart attack. He was 74.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/22/dennis-farina-dead_n_3635587.html" target="_blank">The "Law & Order" star died on July 22, 2013 at the age of 69</a> after suffering a blood clot in his lung.
Cory Allan Michael Monteith, a Canadian actor best known for playing Finn Hudson on the hit Fox TV show "Glee," was found dead on July 13, 2013 in a Vancouver hotel room. He was 31.
James Gandolfini, best known for his role on "The Sopranos," died in Italy on June 19, 2013 after suffering from a heart attack.
The high-pitched country singer who sold millions of records through ever-present TV ads in the 1980s and 1990s and whose song saved the world in the film comedy "Mars Attacks!," died June 19, 2013 at a Florida hospital. He was 90.
Jeanne Cooper, who played Katherine Chancellor on the daytime soap opera "The Young and the Restless," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/jeanne-cooper-dead-dies_n_3239218.html" target="_blank">died on May 8, 2013</a>. She was 84.
Hanneman, a founding member of Slayer, died May 1, 2013 of liver failure. He was 49.
Chris Kelly, one-half of the 1990s rap duo Kris Kross, died May 1, 2013 of an apparent drug overdose. He was 34.
The country music legend died at 81 on April 26, 2013 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. He was hospitalized April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure.
The folk singer and guitarist, who was the first performer at Woodstock, died on April 22, 2013 at age 72. He died of a heart attack in New Jersey, his family said in a statement.
The raunchy lead singer of the Australian rock band Divinyls whose hit "I Touch Myself" brought her international fame in the early 1990s, died at her home in New York City on April 21, 2013. She was 53 years old. "Christine Joy Amphlett succumbed to the effects of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, diseases she vigorously fought with exceptional bravery and dignity," her musician husband Charley Drayton said in a statement.
Character actor Richard LeParmentier, who as a young Death Star commander learned the hard way that Darth Vader brooks no disrespect, died April 16, 2013. He was 66.
The comedic film and TV actor died on April 11, 2013 at the age of 87. He passed away of natural causes, surrounded by friends and family.
Former child star Annette Funicello died on April 8, 2013 at the age of 70. The actress, who is best remembered for her time as a Mouseketeer on "The Mickey Mouse Club" from 1955 to 1957, died from complications related to multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with more than 20 years ago.
Legendary film critic Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013, at the age of 70. Two days prior, Ebert revealed on his blog that his cancer had returned and that he would be reducing his reviewing duties at the Chicago Sun-Times.
The 21-year-old "Buckwild" star was found dead in a truck in Sissonville, W. Va., along with two other bodies, on April 1, 2013. It was later said Gandee had died of carbon monoxide poisoning while “mudding," or off-roading through mud, in his 1984 Ford Bronco.
A masterful Grammy Award-winning engineer, arranger and producer whose platinum touch included recordings with Ray Charles, Billy Joel and Paul Simon, Ramone died March 30, 2013 of complications stemming from heart surgery. He was 79.
One of the great British stage actors of his generation, also known for playing grumpy Uncle Vernon in the fantastical "Harry Potter" movies. Griffiths died March 28, 2013, from complications following heart surgery. He was 65.
Former Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr has died March 12, 2013. He was 56. Burr passed away in his sleep and had suffered poor heath for years after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
A country singer-songwriter and original member of the Louisiana Hayride, King was best known for the 1962 hit "Wolverton Mountain." He died on March 7, 2013, at 90 years of age.
Peter Banks, the original guitarist for the British band Yes, died on March 7, 2013, at the age of 65. A post on his official website stated that Banks died from heart failure and was found in his London home after he didn't show up to a recording session. <br> L-R: Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Jon Anderson - posed, group shot (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)
The British rock guitarist and founder of the band "Ten Years After," who burst to stardom with a memorable Woodstock performance, died March 6, 2013. He was 68. A statement posted on Lee's official website said he died unexpectedly from complications following a routine surgical procedure. Lee's manager, Ron Rainey, said the guitarist died in Spain.
Bonnie Franklin, the pert, redheaded actress who won fame as a divorced mom on the long-running sitcom "One Day at a Time," has died March 1, 2013 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. She was 69.
DJ Ajax (Adrian Thomas)
Australian producer Adrian Thomas, better known as DJ Ajax, died on the day of his 42nd birthday, Feb. 28, 2013. The Sydney Morning Herald reported DJ Ajax died after he ran out onto a Melbourne road and was hit by an oncoming truck.
Former Motown vocalist Richard Street (top R), a member of the Temptations for 25 years, died on Feb. 27, 2013 at a hospital in Las Vegas after a short illness. He was 70.
Dale Robertson, an Oklahoma native who became a star of television and movie Westerns during the genre's heyday, died Feb. 26, 2013 Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., following a brief illness. He was 89.
Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dan Toler has died on Feb. 25, 2013, at the age of 65. He passed away in his sleep after a two-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Myers, the actor most known for playing Mr. Vernon Gaines on the NBC sitcom "A Different World," died on Feb. 19, 2013 at Charleston Medical Center in West Virginia after undergoing a heart-related emergency and falling into a coma. He was 76.
Harris (far right), a one-time member of legendary Motown group The Temptations, died on Feb. 18, 2013. According to the Baltimore Sun, Harris (born Otis Robert Harris, Jr.) lost his 14-year-long battle to prostate cancer after spending the last three months in the hospital. He was 62. Also in the photo: Richard Street, Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams and Dennis Edwards in 1972.