An experienced Cirque du Soleil acrobat performing an intricate aerial routine for the first time onstage plummeted to his death in front of a live audience in Tampa on Saturday.
The company identified the cast member as Yann Arnaud, a Frenchman who had worked with Cirque du Soleil for 15 years. He died at a Florida hospital — just a few hours after posting on Instagram about finally attempting the new, highflying routine.
“After so much work and training and staging, our straps duo act is finally in the show tonight,” Arnaud had written Saturday on Instagram, with a picture showing him shirtless, his right wrist wrapped in a suspended strap. “It’s time to go for it,” Arnaud, 38, said.
His horrifying mid-performance fall brought an abrupt end to the show, “Volta,” which was staged under a big-top tent in Tampa. Audience members were at first told that the show would be briefly interrupted, then they learned that it was canceled.
The rest of the weekend’s shows in Tampa were also canceled after the second onstage death in Cirque du Soleil’s history.
“The entire Cirque du Soleil family is in shock and devastated by this tragedy,” Daniel Lamarre, president and chief executive of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group, said in a statement. “Yann had been with us for over 15 years and was loved by all who had the chance to know him. Over the coming days and weeks, our focus will be on supporting Yann’s family and our employees, especially the VOLTA team, as we go through these difficult times together.”
The statement said the company is gathering more information about Arnaud’s fall and cooperating with investigating authorities.
Arnaud was one of a group of acrobats performing a straps number Saturday night.
A video of the performance reviewed by The Washington Post showed the aerialists on a circular stage, flanked by drummers.
During the performance, Arnaud and another cast member — identified on Arnaud’s Instagram feed as Pawel Walczewski — performed a duet of sorts.
Each man clutched a red strap and performed flips and spins, suspended only by a hand gripping the straps of intertwined ropes.
As the straps were pulled higher, the men linked their free arms and performed interwoven acrobatics as they spun high above the stage.
They separated, flying off in different directions over the crowd, and Arnaud briefly went out of the camera’s frame. When he was visible again, the video showed him losing his grip and dropping to the stage.
There was an audible gasp from the audience. “Oh, Lord,” someone shouted off-camera.
Several Cirque du Soleil employees jumped onto the stage and rushed over to the downed acrobat as the other performer dangled from his rope, uninjured. An announcer told the crowd that “the show has been temporarily interrupted.”
Ben Ritter, a Tampa man who attended the show, told the Tampa Bay Times that when Arnaud hit the stage, he was “out cold and not moving.”
As word spread of Arnaud’s death, condolences poured in from around the world for a man who had dedicated his life to his art and his family — and documented both on social media.
His Instagram feed, which was made private on Monday, showed him dangling and spinning high above stages and training mats all over the world — along with images of his youngest daughter sitting on his shoulder or being thrown into the air on the beach.
Cirque du Soleil, French for “Circus of the Sun,” is the largest theatrical producer in the world, according to Vanity Fair. It is known for “cutting-edge shows featuring aerialists, acrobats and contortionists” and has performed for 160 million spectators in 48 countries, the Chicago Tribune reported.
It was founded by several people, including Guy Laliberte, a busker-turned-billionaire who sold the company to a U.S. private equity firm in 2015.
Arnaud’s death was the third connected to a Cirque du Soleil show in the past five years.
In 2016, technician Olivier Rochette, the son of one of the founders of the circus, died when he was struck by a telescoping lift while he and other workers were setting up for a San Francisco performance of “Luzia,” according to the BBC.
But the show faced its toughest scrutiny after the first performer death during a show in 2013.
Acrobat Sarah Guyard-Guillot fell face first, nearly 100 feet to the floor, when her safety wire detached during her rapid ascent.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the tragedy led the company to reevaluate its safety practices.
“It forced us to review the way we work,” said Nicolas Panet-Raymond, Cirque’s safety director at the time.
After an Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigation into her death, Calum Pearson, vice president of Cirque du Soleil’s Resident Shows Worldwide, told Vanity Fair that Guyard-Guillot’s death was a “million-to-one” freak accident that was mostly a product of human error.
After an investigation, OSHA issued Cirque three citations and a $21,000 fine, which were later reduced to one citation and $7,000 after the company protested, according to the Journal. The newspaper reported that Cirque paid Guyard-Guillot’s children $1 million in settling a legal complaint.
OSHA is investigating Arnaud’s death, along with Tampa police.
This post has been updated.