Behind Cirque du Soleil's Magic Curtain.

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Las Vegas, Treasure Island Hotel, 1996

Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère

A loud aerial clunk and collective gasp of fear resonated through the crowd. The horrendous cracking sound echoed around the theater above the volume of the music. Two human rag-dolls plummeted to earth. The two high-bar flyers, Vasily and Boris, lay motionless in the net.

As always, I watched the high bar act from behind the wings with my colleague, Philippe. Most nights went smoothly—timing compliant to a perfectly tuned Swiss watch. Flyers swiveled around their respective structures at opposite ends of the stage, set to hurl themselves twenty-five feet through thin air with no strings attached, all the while flipping. Occasionally, a flyer would fall into the net and have to regroup while the act continued. He’d climb up the rope ladder and reset. Tonight’s fall was very different, however.

“Zey are way off,” Philippe said with his pronounced French Canadian accent.

“Ah, so what. Same shit, different show. They know what to do,” I responded. “They’ll adjust, or fall; no big deal.” 

They made no attempt to adjust. 

Merde, shit!” gasped Philippe. “Merde! This not good.” 

We both stood up in disbelief, staring at the two bodies lying still in the undulating net. 


“Oh crap,” Philippe said. 

“What the --.“ 


About ten seconds elapsed after the loud collision. Still no indication of life. Ten seconds of nothingness on stage is equal to about thirty minutes in normal life. 

Another ten seconds passed. Still nothing. The only movement in the theater came from the musicians’ fingers melodically pounding their instruments, vamping to lighten the gravity of the tragedy. Everybody knew it was...