Tyce and Mary Nielsen have been flying through the air for years. As the husband-and-wife trapeze act Duo Transcend, they’ve toured with Cirque du Soleil’s 45 Degrees company and performed with cirque troupes across the globe.
Many Americans this past summer discovered the Utah couple on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” where they advanced to the finals. Their story seemed tailor-made for TV. She was a trained dancer, and he was working as a high-dive artist when they met. They married seven years ago and now have a little boy. Tyce Nielsen is vision impaired, with a genetic disorder called keratoconus, which causes damage to his cornea.
Still, that hasn’t stopped him from climbing onto a swing, dangling upside down and tossing his wife around.
And now Spokane audiences will get to see them in person when Duo Transcend takes the stage as part of the “A Magical Cirque Christmas” show at the First Interstate Center for the Arts on Tuesday.
And it won’t be just a trapeze act. The Nielsens will perform a full skating routine, a skill they briefly displayed on “AGT.”
“That’s something that nobody on ‘AGT’ was able to see, a full skating act. We just did half of a skating routine,” Tyce Nielsen said in a recent phone interview. “Then we’ll be doing a longer version of our trapeze act.”
Roller skating is something they’ve added to their repertoire only in the past five years. In 2013, they were doing a trapeze act on a cruise ship when they met other performers who had a skating act.
“We’d never seen the skating before,” he said. “Right when we saw them performing, it clicked with us right away. We saw how the act was. We thought it was really amazing, and we loved the idea of it. And Mary and I back then wanted an act we could do on the ground because everything we’d been doing was in the air.”
The Nielsens befriended the couple doing the skating act and picked their brains about what kinds of skates to use – quads, not inline – what kind of platform to build and other tips.
“When we got off the cruise ship, we went home, we built a platform, we put it in our apartment and we, on our own, figured it out in our apartment,” he said. “When we decided to learn it, we basically locked ourselves in the apartment, and every single morning, afternoon and evening we just practiced trying to figure out how to do it.”
The Nielsens understand that as a variety act, “variety” is key.
“Say your specialty is duo trapeze. The problem that we run into is people that see it, they think it’s great. But if they see it again, it gets less awesome. You see this on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Someone comes on the show with a talent, and they can be amazing, best of the best in the world at what they’re doing, but if they can’t do something different, they become boring.”
A singer can always change up musical style or song choices. “With us, we can throw in different tricks on the trapeze, but we’re still doing trapeze,” he said. “We’ve found it to be really important to do both acts because it’s something that makes us more likeable, because we’re not doing the same thing every show.”
It was quite possibly the most dramatic moment of this past summer’s season of “America’s Got Talent.” The Nielsens were about half way through their midair performance during “judge cuts” week, in front of judges Howie Mandel, Mel B, Heidi Klum, Simon Cowell and guest judge Ken Jeong.
Mel B was beside herself. “Oh my god!” she exclaimed – frequently – as the Nielsens dropped and spun and generally defied gravity. Jeong squirmed in his chair. And when Tyce Nielsen put on a blindfold, Cowell tossed his pen onto the table and said, “Oh come on,” as if he couldn’t believe he was about to see.
And when Mary Tyce slipped through her husband’s grasp and fell hard to the floor, the audience and judges let out a unified gasp. When she stood up, the crowd erupted in cheers and greeted the couple with a standing ovation.
When Mary Nielsen asked if they could try the stunt again, the judges were quick to say no need. As Cowell noted, “I don’t think there’s ever been a singer on any of our competitions who has been note perfect. That doesn’t make them not amazing. It makes them human. And the consequence of this are slightly worse than falling off key, whereas you nearly broke your neck.”
The next week, they did the blindfolded drop stunt perfectly. And each week after that, they added new elements – roller skating, for one – to advance to the finals. They eventually lost out to magician Shin Lim.
Still, they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, Nielsen said. After all, their current gig is just one of many offers they’ve had since they first appeared on “America’s Got Talent.”
“Nobody can go on the show and expect to win the show. I think most people go on the show think they might have a shot at winning,” he said. “It was definitely worth doing it. … We went on hoping to at least maybe do one or two rounds. That was the hope for us. To make it as far as we did was a huge accomplishment for us.”
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