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," 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.
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 stopped.
Guillot-Guyard, a mother of two, had been with the original cast of Ka since 2006, and had been an acrobatic performer for 20 years, Cirque officials said. Born in Paris, she was the head coach at Cirquefit, which offers acrobatic fitness classes for kids.
Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil was established in 1984 and 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.