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OSHA fines Cirque in ‘O’ injury incident

Updated December 27, 2023 - 2:31 pm

A pair of government-issued penalties have reminded of the human risk of Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic artistry.

Las Vegas’ predominant production company has been cited for two “Serious” violations in an incident that has sidelined an experienced, accomplished artist in its flagship show.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has leveled $31,250 in fines from the accident in “O” at the Bellagio on June 28, in which Cirque artist Kyle Mitrione was seriously injured.

The penalties were $15,625 apiece, OSHA’s maximum fine for an on-site work violation.

For context, “O” grosses about $250,000 per show, 10 shows per week, selling more than than 90 percent of its 1,800 seat theater. As Cirque’s best-selling residency production, “O” show grosses between $120 million-$140 million annually. The production celebrated its 25th anniversary in October.

In his recovery, Mitrione has since been working on regaining the use of his arms and legs at a facility near Denver. He reportedly has no volitional movement or sensation below his injury level at C6, and all four limbs are impaired (initial reports that he had some movement in his arms were not accurate).

The Island scene was initially taken down from the production after the incident, but was reportedly returned Nov. 24.

Two senior Cirque officials left the show within a week of Mitrione’s injury.

OSHA’s penalties were issued after a nearly four-month investigation into the incident.

A Boilermaker star

The 35-year-old Mitrione is a former Purdue University diving standout, a team co-captain and honorable-mention All-America competitor in 2009-2010.

The expert diver has also been a member of the Red Bull Cliff Diving extreme stunt team.

The “O” accident occurred in the 9:30 p.m. performance of June 28. Mitrione reportedly suffered a fractured neck during a new act, called Island, which is the advanced version of the long-running Barge number (one difference is the once female-only act now involves male and female artists).

Island is the second act in the show, introduced to the production about two weeks prior.

Mitrione was injured as he performed a back-dive from the barge set into the show’s aquatic stage. The island platform piece was rising underwater, and was a little less than 4 feet from the surface when Mitrione dove in.

Mitrione struck the platform head-first, reportedly suffering a fractured spine. The OSHA report cites his “serious physical injuries including fractures.”

A second artist, unidentified in the report and by Cirque, suffered abrasions to his torso as he “grazed” the face of the platform, according to the documents. The performer finished the show.

Mitrione underwent a five-hour emergency surgery immediately after he was injured and taken by stretcher from the theater. He has reportedly been gradually improving during rehab.

Absence of cues cited

In its findings, OSHA cited Cirque for failing to provide sufficient audio or visual cues so artists know when it is safe to dive into shallow water.

Also, the agency penalized Cirque for requiring its artists to be strapped into body belts as a “fall arrest system” during high-dive and trapeze acts. “In all instances employees were potentially exposed to serious physical injuries such as internal organ damage and asphyxiation.”

That penalty was not related to the incident in which Mitrione was injured.

In a statement, Cirque spokeswoman Ann Paladie said, “The incident at ‘O’ was an unfortunate accident that resulted in the injury of a Cirque du Soleil family member and mandated analysis and review of our work environment and culture as well as protocols and practices of health and safety.

“Without question, the health, safety and well-being of our artists, crew and administrative team is paramount to our culture and remains the top priority. We have validated that our health and safety standards are comprehensive in our unique industry and we will continue a vigilant focus on our commitment to a healthy and safe work environment for all.”

Medical, emotional support

Mitrione has declined requests for comment. His Instagram feed indicates he has been rehabilitating at Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado, a neurorehabilitation center that specializes in brain and spine injuries and an array of neurological disorders.

Craig Hospital is an industry leader, having been ranked as a Best Hospital for Rehabilitation by U.S. News & World Report for 33 consecutive years.

Mitrione is a member not just of the Cirque family, but the Las Vegas entertainment community. His wife, Karolina Melska, is an well-known aerialist who performs in “Fantasy” at Luxor on Mondays, but has been out of the show since her husband’s injury.

Melska has also been featured in a Cirque show, “The Beatles Love” at the Mirage.

The most recent photo on Mitrione’s IG feed, with Craig Hospital posted as the location, shows a wall covered in greeting cards and handwritten notes.

Mitrione messaged his well-wishers on Facebook about a week after his injuries. He thanked his supporters and offered hope for recovery.

“Please know the love I’m feeling is keeping me going. It’s an indescribable sensation of hope and light. You’ve pulled me from a darkness I did not know existed. I can’t thank everyone enough, for every offer to help, every gesture, every thought, prayer, wish, dream … I’ve felt them all.

“Please keep them coming, especially for my wife, Karolina, every smile from her, every time we share a laugh, I’m reminded that we still have each other and that there’s hope of living fulfilled lives together at the end of this journey.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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