On opening night of Cirque du Soleil's Luzia, under a 62-foot-tall big top and in front of 2,600 audience members, a performer in the final act fell. "The spell ended abruptly in the double-swing finale when a flying acrobat landed smack on her back and lay motionless, eventually carried off stage," according to Rosemary Ponnekanti of the Tacoma News Tribune.
Seattle Times critic Misha Berson described the accident as "unplanned among the thrills and chills... plunging the opening night audience into a hushed, anxious silence as she was tended to and moved off-stage during a 10-minute break in the action."
In an official statement, Cirque du Soleil described the incident as a "hard landing," adding: "At all times, the artist was fully conscious and in a stable state. After assessment, she was not transported to the hospital. She will return to her activities once our coaching team will have determined that she is fully ready."
As the News Tribune put it, "For a long moment in that big tent, the audience suddenly realized these astonishing beings on stage doing amazing things are, actually, human. And they risk everything, in increasingly dangerous ways, for our amusement."
In other Cirque du Soleil productions around the world, acrobats have been seriously injured or worse (including a fatal fall in Las Vegas in 2013). During Luzia's run in San Francisco four months ago, a technician was killed tragically when a piece of equipment toppled over. I did not mention these things to my date as we drove to Marymoor Park the night after opening night, because she has been craving a sunny vacation from this Seattle winter, and Luzia's tagline is "A Waking Dream of Mexico."
Highlights of the show include rain onstage (a first for a touring Cirque production) and a lifelike jaguar puppet (props to the producers and designers for proving long ago that no circus needs real animals). Acrobatic highlights include an act called "Hoop Diving," in which tumblers dressed as birds fly through rings, sometimes with their bodies folded in half; "Adagio," in which University of Washington–trained gymnast Kelly McDonald is used as a human jump rope; and "Contortion," in which Alexey Goloborodko does unbelievable things with his body. "I don't think he has ever eaten popcorn in his life," my date cracked, halfway through our second bag of popcorn. "This is unbelievable."
Then it was time for the final act, "Swing to Swing," and sure enough, it was a nail-biter. Acrobats from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia did astonishing flips 33 feet in the air as they jumped, without harnesses on, between two huge swings. "For the first time at Cirque du Soleil, the two swings are mounted on a turntable so that the audience can enjoy the performance from all angles," producers explained in press materials. Each time a performer made a successful landing, it boggled the mind—and reminded me of what happened the night before.
Then, eerily, the performers stopped jumping, and eventually ran offstage. "Ladies and gentlemen, there's been a temporary interruption in the show. Please remain in your seats." After a minute or two: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your continued patience." After another minute: "Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. The show will resume in a moment."
Then stagehands emerged and carried one of the swings offstage. Acrobats climbed onto the remaining swing and used it to perform further tricks. Had someone gotten hurt again?
No. "There was no injury," a spokesperson told The Stranger two days later. "The turntables of the stage stopped turning" during the act, "so we stopped the show to fix the problem and came back on with the end of the act." Phew.
Accidents happen when you're defying death night after night. The Stranger requested further comment about the status of the woman who fell on opening night and the technician who died in San Francisco, but a spokesperson declined to elaborate.