Cirque du Soleil is answering questions after a performer died during a performance recently in Tampa, Florida. The aerialist, Yann Arnaud, was performing in the company’s VOLTA show, when an error caused him to fall to his death in front of a live audience. Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group expressed shock and remorse: “The entire Cirque du Soleil family is in shock and devastated by this tragedy… Yann had been with us for over 15 years and was loved by all who had the chance to know him.”
Performing troops like this one are tight knit, and performers were devastated by the tragedy. While everyone in their line of work understands the risks, these incidents tend to be rare due to the skill and intense practice that goes into preparing for performances. After Arnaud’s death, the company chose to cancel the final two performances of VOLTA in Tampa.
Speaking to local media about the tragedy, some witnesses said they thought something might go wrong. One fan in the audience, Julien Martinez told a local CNN affiliate that Arnaud had been “straining to hold onto the rope…” just before the fall. “It was awful,” Martinez recalled, “… you heard all the cries of the audience… children freaking out…”
Martinez was not the only audience member left shaken by the incident, wondering if the entertainment value was worth the risk to the performers. That’s a question, fans and organizers say, that should be asked of the performers, not for them.
Many aerialists, either in circus teams or in these kinds of performances love what they do and wouldn’t trade it for anything. After tragedies, even among close friends and family members, the first thing they want to do after paying their respects is to get back in the air or on the wire. That’s exactly what many Cirque du Soleil performers did after acrobat Sarah Guillot-Guyard died after falling during a live show in Las Vegas back in 2013. Safety regulators cited and fined the entertainment group, which settled up before opening the show again.
There is no word, yet, when Cirque du Soleil will begin operations again after this latest tragedy. A statement from the entertainment group said the company is currently “devastated” and “focusing on supporting Yann’s family…as well as the VOLTA team…”
No doubt, this is the time to mourn. But there will come a reckoning, both officially and in the court of public opinion. How the group manages that pressure will go a long way toward ongoing public perception, especially for those like Martinez, who watched it happen.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5W Public Relations