Audience members looked on in horror as a Cirque Du Soleil acrobat slipped and fell 15 metres to her death at a performance at the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas.
Sarah (Sassoon) Guyard, 31, was suspended from a wire in the final fight scene of the production Ka when she slipped from her safety wire and fell into the pit below the stage.
One audience member seated a few rows from the stage told the Las Vegas Weekly that the show momentarily continued on Saturday night before the music stopped and screams and groans could be heard coming from the pit, which was out of the view of the audience members.
"(The artist) was being hoisted up the side of the stage and then just plummeted down," audience member Dan Mosqueda told the Las Vegas Weekly.
"Initially, a lot of people in the audience thought it was part of the choreographed fight. But you could hear screaming, then groaning, and we could hear a female artist crying from the stage."
Guyard, a mother of two young children who had more than 22 years' experience as an acrobat, was taken to University Medical Centre where she was pronounced dead.
It is the first reported death in the acrobatic company's 30-year history.
Cirque Du Soleil released a statement saying the group was ''deeply saddened'' by Guyard's death.
''The artist's immediate family has been informed of the accident. Our thoughts are with her family and the entire Cirque du Soleil family."
Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte released his own statement saying he was ''heartbroken''.
''I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to the family,'' he said.
''We are all completely devastated with this news. Sassoon was an artist with the original cast of Ka since 2006 and has been an integral part of our Cirque du Soleil tight family. 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.
"We have been working with the appropriate authorities and have offered our full co-operation. Performances of Ka will be cancelled until further notice."
Following the accident, one audience member, @AnnieR, tweeted that the "wire snapped" and the performer "fell fast & awkwardly at LEAST 50 feet into pit".
''Other actors were visibly upset & horrified. Crew members were calm & one by one got the other performers off stage,'' she tweeted.
Guyard also worked as a coach with Cirquefit, a children's fitness and circus program in Las Vegas, and the families of her former students have paid tribute to her on social media.
"Oh Sarah Guyard Guillot. My heart goes out to you and your sweet children. Thank you for spending your time teaching my son. We will never forget you," wrote Cin Jo.
Another parent, April Anstett, posted on Facebook a photograph that Guyard had posed for following the 7pm show of Ka on Saturday, just hours before she died.
"Losing Sarah is a horrible tragedy! Not only did my two girls love being in her classes and performing in yesterday's presentation but we went to the KA show last night for the 7pm show," Anstett wrote.
"Sarah took time to take photos with our family last night after the show. We will miss her terribly! She was an amazing teacher!"
Another woman, Jenna Racine Robertson, wrote: "No words. My boys loved every moment in Miss Sarah's class. Deepest sympathies to her loved ones."
Guyard's death was the second safety incident at a Cirque Du Soleil event in Las Vegas in a week, according to the Las Vegas Weekly.
On Wednesday night, a performer in one of the final preview performances of Michael Jackson One suffered a mild concussion after slipping through the slack rope in one of the show's scenes.
The performer reportedly missed the protective pad and landed hard on the stage.
- Sydney Morning Herald