Cirque du Soleil revives 'Ka' battle sequence, adds safety features 18 months after fatal fall

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LAS VEGAS — As an epic battle sequence between good and evil returns to a Las Vegas Strip stage at the MGM Grand, Cirque du Soleil officials were solemn but confident that new safety measures for its "Ka" show would ensure a fatal fall like the one that occurred 18 months ago won't happen again.

The scene involves warriors — one side good, the other bad — waging war on an imposing vertical stage with performers held aloft with cables.

Performer Sarah Guillot-Guyard fell 94 feet to her death during the sequence on June 29, 2013.

Cirque officials said that as Guillot-Guyard was ascending, she hit a catwalk high above the stage and a series of split-second mechanical events led to her cable being severed.

"I was on the wall. I was there," said Marc-Antoine Picard, a "Ka" performer who is the captain for the artists in the battle scene who have spent the last year and a half developing new choreography and practicing with new equipment.

He said Wednesday that it meant a great deal to him for the scene to return.

The company revived the scene, rather than shelve it entirely, because it was integral to the story, said Calum Pearson, a Cirque vice president.

"You just can't replicate the visual majesty of what you just saw," he said.

Pearson said the scene was Guillot-Guyard's favorite, also.

Her fall set into motion 18 months spent trying to understand everything that happened that night, and to ensure it didn't happen again, Pearson said.

"There was no one thing that caused it," he said.

Pearson dismissed claims that Guillot-Guyard may have ascended too fast, a finding in state investigator's original report, saying that controls already in place limited the speed performers could ascend.

Rather, Cirque officials said that based on witness statements and a forensic report, Guillot-Guyard hit the underside of a catwalk high above the stage that performers usually glide above and into. The force of the hit caused a pulley holding the cable to collapse, shifting the cable into a point where it got pinched and was severed, which sent the performer into a freefall.

Cirque brought in two firms specializing in accident investigations, asked vendors to test their harnesses and equipment against extreme pressure, and after taking everything into consideration, made changes to the scene.

There are fewer performers, for one — 13 versus 16. Also, the speed of the action was slowed down. Performers holding a device in one hand control their movements and the cables for most of the scene, except near the end when the evil warriors are vanquished and sent flying above. That's now controlled automatically.

A winch was lowered and reattached. The pulley that collapsed was removed and replaced with a larger one now bolted to steel beams above, Pearson said.

The scene will be included in some "Ka" performances until it becomes a regular feature again Dec. 12.

Jerry Nadal, a senior vice president with Cirque, said the last year and a half had been a long, emotional journey for the production.

"She remains in our thoughts and our hearts every day," he said of Guillot-Guyard.

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