Rings In The Ring

There are more than circus rings in the ‘CabaRAE’ show at Hilton Hawaiian Village. For four couples who are part of the production, there are also wedding rings


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Left to right: Tyce & Mary Nielsen, Ryan James & Karine Denoncourt, Galina & Sonny Hayes, Wanda Azzario-Goldberg & Alan Goldberg. Nathalie Walker photo

Whenever in the history of human bonding the expression was coined, “Love makes the world go round” — that astute observer must have witnessed the splendiferous passion of circus performers. Chiseled men suspended from ropes far above ground, wielding sinewy lasses into an impossible series of buckle-me-into-my-seat poses, with no net below. It’s easy to love what you do when you’re at your peak physical prowess swinging in an adult playground of ropes and bars, living an aerial dream that 9-to-5ers will ever only fantasize about. Who needs a cup of joe when you’re getting a nightly, death-defying adrenaline high? And it’s no wonder that when kindred acrobatic souls meet, romantic sparks will be set ablaze. Yes, amor is in the air at Hawaii’s circus-themed variety show CabaRAE. Even cliff divers and tiger tamers fall in love … Read on!

You’ve heard of the Taj Mahal, an edifice of love, but alas, a mere tomb. CabaRAE also is an offering of affection from a circus man extraordinaire to his cherished damsel, and this offering is bursting with life, with a medley of singing, high flying, skating, balancing, and plenty of oohs, ahs and hearty applause. CabaRAE is somewhat of a marriage between a traditional circus ring and the hip cirque concept, resulting in a show that pits a sensational flurry of excitement all on one intimate stage in the round. Meet four sets of lovers who inhabit that stage:


MW-Cover-020415-Cabarae-TyceMaryTyce and Mary Nielsen, or Duo Transcend, are a sensual husband-wife trapeze act. This steamy couple’s award-winning acrobatics have gained them acceptance into the Cirque du Soleil family. They met while cliff diving in a show and quickly busied themselves with creating an act that would allow them to perform together:

“We have a lot of friends (twosomes) who are both performers, but you get hired in different shows and you might only see each other a couple times a year because you’re on the other side of the country,” says Mary. “So we decided to put an act together and trained for a year just doing trapeze.”

Their background is varied, with Tyce (whose father was a professional magician and acrobat) having expertise in 80-foot high dives, a feat that he has shared with audiences as far as Dubai. Mary’s background is in musical theatre and dance. But together they’ve honed the aerial arts to perfection, and are adept at solo acts in silks and rope, which brings us to a unique “popping the question” moment.

Mary: He proposed to me during a show, which was a big surprise.

Tyce: It was during her performance on the aerial silks. I had this huge banner that said “Will you marry me?” And I stood before her with the banner, a ring, flowers. I was just hoping so bad that she didn’t lose concentration and fall off the silks.

She paused for a moment to catch her bearings as he coaxed her to finish her routine. Performance accomplished, she said “yes,” to an uproar from the delighted audience. Since their nuptials nearly four years ago, they’ve been taking their duo act around the country. Both being American citizens, their families have had the chance to come to their shows across the U.S.

What happens when work and personal life intermingle? If they’re having a rough day relationship-wise, the two said they just don’t let it carry over.

Mary: We have our five-minute routine and as soon as we’re done, we can bring up any other problems.

Tyce: We can yell and scream and throw things.

They chuckle playfully at the irony, because there is a deadly serious, breathtaking elegance to their work. These two have produced an act where their lives are literally in each other’s hands, not to mention feet, arms and legs. As for perpetuation, they plan to produce a Circus Jr. one day, but at the peak of their career, it’s all about work and romance. Speaking of romance, MidWeek asked each couple to finish this Valentine’s Day question:

Love is …?

Mary: Fun.

Tyce: Trapeze.

There you have it, a pair whose passion for each other seamlessly intertwines with their passion for work.


MW-Cover-020415-Cabarae-7Comedy duo Sonny and Galina Hayes boast an 18-year marriage that has produced a 10-year-old girl who’s already performing with her circus school and rides a monocycle, and a 16-year-old son who sings and dances with the children’s revue in Friedrichstadt-Palast, a grand and wildly popular show in Berlin.

The Hayes met on a TV show all those years ago in Paris. He was an established funny man, and she a well-known magician with an act that combined astonishing visual trickery with a graceful, seductive dance. When his comedy partner broke contract, Galina gladly filled in. Working together has been a blessing, say the British-Dutch gent and his Russian counterpart.

“In some moments it’s hard, but it also helps,” says Galina. “It’s like we’re driving the same boat and we have to work together.”

Once they step into the round, she says, they have no choice but to smile and laugh at each other. The onstage fun kicks in, and any manini problems disappear. The two have performed around the globe, and particularly loved their two years in Israel doing comedy alongside a Chinese acrobatic troupe. The secret to longevity, they say through some hearty laughs, is:

Sonny: The first step is not to kill each other.

Galina: Not making things too complicated. Keep it simple.

Sonny: One thing that works for us is we’re culturally very different because she’s Russian and I’m British, very typically British. I have crooked teeth and a patronizing attitude. Patronizing means talking down to people (hehe).

For these two birds of a feather, love is …?

Sonny: All that’s left.

Galina: What you see in the other person’s eyes.


MW-Cover-020415-Cabarae-6You haven’t seen majesty in motion until you’ve seen Ryan James’ aerial strap artistry, and behind every amazing circus man is an amazing tech. In this case, it’s four-year companion and newly minted wife Karine Denoncourt. The seasoned French Canadian makeup artist (we’re talking elaborate Cirque du Soleil maquillage) literally controls the strings that make him dance.

They met at Canada’s Cirque du Soleil headquarters, and their hearts went pitter patter at first mascara-laden eyelash flutter.

They tease that they just might have a Valentine’s tradition of covering themselves in melted chocolate and rose petals, and bathing in champagne while listening to Michael Bubl√©. Well, OK, they’re having a giggle, but they do cherish their outside-the-box lifestyle that has its benefits and drawbacks.

“A lot of couples are able to leave work in the workplace,” notes James, who has performed in locales from Abu Dhabi to Montreal and Tasmania. “We both work for the same show, so work comes home sometimes and it can be a struggle to get ourselves to stop talking about work. But the nice thing is that you have your companion with you all day. Most couples wake up, go to work and have a routine where they don’t see their significant other much. We’re so lucky to have a lifestyle that enables us to be together almost all the time.”

Denoncourt, wearing earrings cast with their combined initials, KR, adds that working together gives each other insight that couples with separate jobs don’t share.

“We can really be supportive of each other because we understand the emotional level and all of the intricate things about show business that someone who is outside this world may not understand.”

For these two, love is: Denoncourt: A road trip full of adventure.

James: Being on the same team. Going through experiences with someone who complements your life and takes everything to a better level.


MW-Cover-020415-Cabarae-8These two lovebirds are hopelessly twitterpated. Let’s see if you can keep up with the twists and turns of this story of animal magnetism. Alan Goldberg was a headlining showman wielding his command over lions and tigers. Wanda Azzario was part of an acrobatic roller-skating trio that included her then husband. Goldberg and Azzario were performing on separate days for prestigious Circus Krone in Munich — him as the show’s star — but happen-stance found Mr. Animal Act in a front-row seat waiting to watch a polar bear number, and instead catching Mrs. Skater’s act of daredevilry. Now, generally ne’er the twain shall meet when it comes to animal versus non-animal performers, but as he tells it, when the spotlight circled the audience looking for a volunteer and landed on him, he had to step up and allow the skaters to take him for a spin, and it was “love at first spin.”

“Literally, when I saw her, I was just taken away,” he says. “From that moment on, I could never forget her.”

The hitch was that the two were already married to other people, but nearly 20 years later, thanks to Cupid’s omnipotent assistant Facebook, the two world performers reconnected, and five years ago were wed in their favorite place on Earth: Hawaii, of course.

Long story short, Goldberg wanted a venue on our lovely Island where his woman could shine (and does she ever) so he created CabaRAE. Both had retired, but now they’re back with a vengeance, he hosting the show, and she as both artistic director and in the ring as the Skating Willers with her former husband and skating partner of 30 years, Jean-Pierre Poissonnet, who just celebrated a wedding of his own.

CabaRAE was a dream that took five laborious years to materialize, and in the meantime, Goldberg and his soul-mate ran a successful fishing and diving charter out of Kewalo Basin. When Goldberg does something, he does it big and glorious, and unforget-table. “He is the world’s most interesting man,” coos his sparkly eyed British inamorata.

But calling him “interesting” might be an understatement. He’s the rare circus person you’ll meet who wasn’t born into it, but literally ran away and joined as a kid, and stuck with it for 30-odd years. When Goldberg retired back in ’96 and moved to Maui, he spent his days windsurfing, and he also has spent years as a paraglider pilot and scuba diving instructor. Their wedding was peopled with the showbiz community, paragliders and scuba divers coming out of the water right on time for the “I do’s.” His circus knowledge mixed with underwater expertise made him the go-to man when the Bellagio was being built and Cirque du Soleil was looking to produce a water-based show, which became O.

“I was the aquatics director for the show,” he says. “We invented a whole lot of new technologies and procedures to make the show run in and out of the water.”

He was instrumental in designing the pool and safety systems, and teaching the stage hands to do their prop work underwater, and oversaw a specialty team that assisted the artists, including dismounting trapeze acts who’d land in the water and magically “disappear.”

At the moment, the couple is enjoying the serendipity of having both of their families in town, including Wanda’s twin sister whose daughters, a famed clown duo visiting from Spain, currently are performing as the Azzario Sisters in CabaRAE. Her son also arrives this month, and he’ll fill mom’s shoes, make that skates, whenever she chooses to retire.

The fairytale pair, meanwhile, lives on their sailboat in Ala Wai Harbor.

“It’s that Gypsy thing, being on the road our whole lives,” says Goldberg. “We traded what normally would have wheels underneath it for a nautical life, and our five-year plan is that once everything is going well (they have plans for another CabaRAE or two in other locations), we’ll sail out of the harbor and head for Tahiti. That’s about as romantic as it gets.”

Can you guess what “Love is …” for these two?

Wanda: Alan.

Alan: There’s never been any other love for me, ever. She’s it.

Wanda: Don’t you dare. She chides him affectionally as his eyes fill with tears of joy.

CabaRAE’s showroom is at Hilton Hawaiian Village, and tickets cost $30-$90.

For more information, call 354-0629 or visit