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April 21, 2014

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Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ka’ marks a triumphant, and poignant, return at MGM Grand

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Isaac Brekken

The Dressing Ritual, which has replaced the Final Battle, at “Ka” in MGM Grand on Tuesday, July 16, 2013.

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The Dressing Ritual as played out Tuesday, July 16, 2013, in the return of "Ka" at MGM Grand.

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The Dressing Ritual in the new version of "Ka," which returned to MGM Grand on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, the first time since the death of Sarah Guillot-Guyard on June 29.

On the night the circus returned to MGM Grand, a man and his two daughters were spotted standing, hugging, near the theater exit at the end of the show.

They were crying, the father and the two girls. The sisters looked to be about 10 and 8 years old, if that. The man wrapped his arms around the girls and was asked if he wanted to say anything about the performance he just saw.

“We were good friends, and she taught my daughters,” said the man, who declined to give his name as tears streaked his face. “We just had to be here, and we loved her. That’s all I can say right now.”

The woman of whom he spoke was the late Sarah Guillot-Guyard, who died after falling from the stage in a performance of “Ka” on June 29. Tuesday’s show is the first performance of the production since Guillot-Guyard fell 90 feet from the show’s moveable stage, which had been hoisted in its vertical position for the show’s Final Battle scene. Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors have been investigating the accident, the first death from an onstage incident ever in Cirque’s 29 years.

The findings could take as long as six months to be made public, though OSHA did not forge the cancellation of “Ka” performances over the past 2 1/2 weeks. That was Cirque’s decision, as was the move to sideline the Final Battle act, the show’s climactic scene, at least until OSHA issues its findings. In its place is a far more sedate act titled the Dressing Ritual, in which the show’s twin characters are dressed in formal attire as they reunite at show’s end.

Tuesday’s show was a sellout in the 1,950-seat Ka Theater. The show was dedicated to Guillot-Guyard, and a female voiceover told the audience that the show was dedicated to “an exceptional artist.” At that, the crowd rose, and many sobs could be heard across the audience.

The performance itself was classic Cirque. Aside from eliminating the Final Battle and adding the new act, which kept the show’s running time at 90 minutes, “Ka” was characteristically daring and powerful. During the performance, about 20 artists dove or fell into the 25-foot open pit at the center of the stage. This includes the “audience member” who is thrown into the open space after his cellphone blares just before the show starts.

All of the other wildly, and dangerously, inventive acts remain: the fistfights on the swaying sea vessel, the artists plunging down the vertical stage as archers fire arrows across the theater, aerialists bounding dozens of feet above the stage while hooked to bungee chords, and the winter scene in which performers are locked into the same types of harnesses and wire cables used in the Final Battle and scale that towering, vertical stage.

The show ended with a loud, lengthy standing ovation. Many performers sighed heavily and pumped their fists at the crowd.

Cirque has not yet decided how, or even if, another public tribute will be made in honor of Guillot-Guyard. She has been memorialized privately twice, in Paris and Las Vegas. Thursday at 11:59 p.m., performers from shows across Las Vegas, including many Cirque artists, are staging a cabaret show at Baobob Stage at Town Square.

Some fans in the audience were caught unaware that the performance held such importance. Visiting couple Gerd and Traudel Lange of Washington, D.C., had known of the Guillot-Guyard tragedy but hadn’t known the show they had just watched was “Ka’s” return to the stage.

“They are such incredible athletes and acrobats, world class,” said Traudel Lange, a real estate agent in Las Vegas for a conference. “They are remarkable.”

Added Gerg Lange, a retired forest and technical engineer who once worked in theater staging: “What I just saw — I’ve never seen anything like it. To know someone lost their life doing this is very, very sad.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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