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Cirque du Soleil in mourning after son of founder dies in on-set accident

Performers are pictured during the Cirque du Soleil's Luzia show.

Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil is in mourning after an employee who is also the son of one of the Quebec-based circus company's two founders was killed working behind-the-scenes in San Francisco.

Olivier Rochette, a technician on the touring show Luzia, was struck by a telescopic lift on Tuesday while setting up for a performance in the circus' blue-and-yellow big-top. The 43-year-old died of his injuries.

"I am heartbroken," Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre said in a statement released Wednesday, after Rochette's family had been notified. "Olivier has always been a member of our tight family and a beloved colleague."

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A Cirque du Soleil spokesperson said the company – still headquartered in Montreal, but sold last year to new international ownership – was working with the proper authorities and "offered our full co-operation." The San Francisco Police Department and California's workplace safety regulator, Cal/OSHA, are investigating the accident.

Luzia, a Mexican-themed show that premiered in Montreal in April and played for several months in Toronto before heading to San Francisco, cancelled its performances Tuesday and Wednesday as both the circus and authorities looked into the tragic circumstances of the death of Rochette, who had worked at the company his father, Gilles Ste-Croix, co-founded since 1996.

Cirque du Soleil has had a number of serious accidents make headlines recently – most recently on Sunday, when Australian aerialist and former Olympic gymnast Lisa Skinner fractured her neck after falling during a solo performance in the show Kooza in Brisbane.

In October, Karina Silva Poirier, an aerial performer with Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba in Orlando, fell 40 feet during a rehearsal for an event and was reported to have fractured her skull and face. Both women are still recovering.

These high-profile accidents have come as Cirque du Soleil adjusts to its new ownership. In the summer of 2015, the Canadian government approved the company's sale to a group headed by TPG Capital, a U.S. private equity firm. TPG holds 60 per cent of the company, while Fosun International, a Chinese conglomerate, owns a 20-per-cent stake – and the partners hope to expand the company's activities significantly in China. (Co-founder Guy Laliberté retains a 10-per-cent stake, as does Quebec pension fund manager Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec.)

According to La Presse, Rochette – the third death at Cirque du Soleil after performers died in 2009 and 2013 – leaves behind three siblings, his partner, Caroline Lamarre, and four children with his ex-partner, Marie Vincent. Cirque du Soleil asked for the media to "respect the wishes of the family to mourn in private."

Ste-Croix, Rochette's father who is currently an artistic adviser at Celine Dion's Feelings Productions, started Cirque du Soleil in 1984 along with the better-known Laliberté – and went on to be "director of creation" on major shows from Saltimbanco to Alegria to the long-running Las Vegas aquatic show, O.

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After retiring from Cirque in 2014, Ste-Croix penned his memoirs about his 30 years with the company. During interviews promoting Ma place au soleil earlier this fall– he opened up about his concerns about how the company would change under new ownership. "It will change. The spirit will change," he said, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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