Audience members watched in horror Tuesday night as two performers fell 15 to 35 feet during a “Zumanity” show at New York-New York.

One of the Cirque du Soleil performers injured in the fall, a woman, remained at University Medical Center’s intensive care unit in critical condition on Wednesday. The other, a “little person” named Alan Jose Silva, was treated for minor injuries Tuesday night and released from the hospital, said Anita Nelving, spokeswoman for Cirque du Soleil.

While details of the accident varied slightly from witness to witness, one consistent comment was that the audience was aghast.

Lisa from Michigan said, “I was at this show, sitting in the balcony and saw the whole thing unfold. It was disturbing on many levels. First, they were swinging, climbing, and finally dropping from slippery white satin panels. There were no invisible ropes, no nets, not even a cushioned mats or padding below to act as a barrier and to prevent this type of accident from occurring. I cannot believe the irresponsibility of Cirque to allow their performers to take these risks. 

When they dropped from 30 feet high, the dwarf, Alan Silva was descending vertically. He is a very muscular man and I believe the combination of his physique and the manner in which he fell, saved his life. The woman was upside down when she fell, and as she dropped, she became horizontal when she hit the stage. Both lost consciousness for a few minutes. I thought they were both dead until I could see Alan’s chest move with quick shallow breaths. They both laid motionless until appearing to regain consciousness approximately 5-10 minutes after impact. When she woke, she moaned quietly as she laid on stage surrounded by 5-6 others who came rushing to their side from back stage when they realized what had happened.”

A magician once told me that his most important rule is to never do a trick on stage that is more dangerous to perform than the audience realizes. In fact, magic works on the opposite principal: Things are meant to look dangerous while being perfectly safe. Siegfried & Roy are the most famous example of violating this obvious rule. I don’t think anyone understood before the mauling of Roy that it really was only Roy’s magic protecting him from attack each show and that those lions, as is standard now, had no tether or other restraint to keep them out of the audience beyond predictability, instinct and Roy.

But in the world of acrobatics things are exactly as dangerous as they look.

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