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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

The Illusionists come to Dubai: Seven is the magic number

What's the secret behind The Illusionists, currently touted as the presenters of the world's biggest magic show? We delve deeper.
Andrew Basso, The Escapologist. Courtesy The Illusionists
Andrew Basso, The Escapologist. Courtesy The Illusionists

When you bring seven famous illusionists, magicians and comedians together, the outcome is the biggest-selling magic show in the world.

The Illusionists' mind-bending productions, choreographed to frighten and astound, attracted an audience of 31,000 in the nine days of their first show at the Sydney Opera House in January 2012. They went bigger in Mexico City a few months later, with 42,000 attending their two-hour extravaganza.

Picking locks, altering thoughts, escaping a torture cell and levitating are child's play for these artists, who have mastered and improved on classic tricks and illusions by Harry Houdini and David Copperfield. Their larger-than-life display is accentuated by a contemporary set, eye-catching costumes and a live band.

"Our show is a world first," says Simon Painter, the creative producer of the show. "Each of the seven international illusionists is the best in their niche and together will leave audiences spellbound."

The Inventor

Off-stage: Kevin James

Home: US

Costume: White suit and eyewear

The illusion: Inventor and comedian

"My act is a collection of stories that connects with the audience on an emotional level. Some parts are sweet and some are shocking but all are memorable. I want to make it like a little roller-coaster ride for the audience."

The jaw-dropper: Demonstrating an accident with a chainsaw.

The tricky journey: "I was 8 when I first became interested in magic. I knew instantly that it was all I ever wanted to do with my life. I believe I 'made it' when I was teaching David Copperfield one of my inventions. He is a really good student."

Magic master: "Penn and Teller are my favourite magicians in the world."

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "I really love watching the Water Torture Cell by The Escapologist, Andrew Basso. It is real danger. "

Off the cuff: "I will actually make it snow in Dubai."

The Mentalist

Off-stage: Philip Escoffey

Home: Britain/Switzerland

Costume: Suited up with a bunnet and handkerchief in breast pocket

The illusion: Reading minds

"Performing mentalism to such large audiences has presented all sorts of original challenges but, as a result, I think that it's pushed me to come up with some of my most original stuff."

The jaw-dropper: Manipulating perception and reading thoughts.

The tricky journey: "In 1999 when I was just turning 30, I decided that reading people's minds at fancy parties was a nice way to earn a living."

Magic master: "Chan Canasta had a charm and classiness which is very inspiring."

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "I love all the things that I don't do myself. Of course I have a favourite but I can't possibly say. I have to hang out with all of them!"

Off the cuff: "A card appears in an orange. I should do that in the show."

The Trickster

Off-stage: Jeff Hobson

Home: US

Costume: Colourful suits

The illusion: Mixing comedy with magic "My speciality is dealing with different audience members every show. I never know who it's going to be or how they're going to react. I have to be ready for anything. Even a knife fight."

The jaw-dropper: Unpredictable; asking audience members personal questions.

The tricky journey: "I was 7 when I saw my first magician performing. That was it. I knew I had to make audiences feel the same sense of wonder that first magician made me feel."

Magic master: "Fred Kaps. He died in the 1980s but has left his legacy among every magician in the world."

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "Any trick that directly involves an audience member is always my favourite."

 

The Escapologist

Off-stage: Andrew Basso

Home: Italy

Costume: Mohawk, tight suit, several rings on fingers

The illusion: Lock-picking abilities and bone-squeezing techniques.

"I am an escape expert with physical endurance and mind and body control."

The jaw-dropper: Locked underwater, upside down, chained and handcuffed to the bottom of the Water Torture Cell.

The tricky journey: "I was a kid, maybe 5, when I thought my future would be Circus Basso. So I started practising juggling and putting together a one-man show. At 12, I met the master magician Sergio Molinari who decided to teach me the real secrets of magic."

Magic master: Harry Houdini

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "I like watching Kevin James, The Inventor, from the nostalgic moment when he gives life to a Charlie Chaplin puppet to the shocking moment when he saws in half a man in full view."

Off the cuff A man escaping a drowning death. In full view. For real.

The Anti-Conjuror

Off-stage: Dan Sperry

Home: US

Costume: Scruffy hair, Gothic get-up

The illusion: Shock illusions

"Magic and illusions are exactly what is called magic. When kids see magic, they see proof that anything is possible. When adults see magic, they are reminded that anything is possible."

The jaw-dropper: Smoke-bombing out of a public situation.

The tricky journey: "I saw a magician when I was young and played with magic tricks as I grew up. It wasn't until I was 10 that I saw a magic shop in a mall and started saving up and buying tricks and building material. I did my first real show not long after."

Magic master: David Copperfield

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "I like watching Phil, The Mentalist, because I really don't know how he reads minds - and I don't want to know either. I enjoy and appreciate this kind of performance magic."

Off the cuff "I probably can't talk about a dangerous moment because it is not happening in the show while we are in Dubai."

The Gentleman

Off-stage: Mark Kalin

Home: US

Costume: Smooth and classic hat and suit

The illusion: Classic illusions

"A healthy resect for magic's past - but pushing it forward and finding new ways to interpret it and twist it. Sleight of hand is a speciality."

The jaw-dropper: The historical re-enactment of the classic "sawing a woman in two".

The tricky journey: "At the age of 9, I found on a shelf at the library a book on magic. The idea of magic really intrigued me. I tried to do a few tricks and found out it was something that I could master."

Magic master: "Doug Henning, because he really believed in it and because of that the audience believed, too."

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "Anything Dan Sperry does because it's always unpredictable. He's a little like a car crash. You just can't look away."

Off the cuff: "I will do 'Billiard Balls'. Did it for my mom and fumbled all the way through. She said it was a 'masterpiece'. I felt like a king."

 

The Enchantress

Off-stage: Jinger Leigh-Kalin

Home: US

Costume: Edgy, tight suit

The illusion: Gravity defiance

"I personally enjoy it when I don't know how something is done because I get to receive the very gift I try to give."

The jaw-dropper: Penetrating flaming spikes.

The tricky journey: "I was 15 when I started as an actress, dancer and performer specialising in live theatrical presentations. It was a natural progression to illusions."

Magic master: Doug Henning

Edge-of-the-seat pick: "Kevin James's 'Rose' trick. I love magic seen through the eyes of a child."

Off the cuff: "Magic is best expressed through emotion. If you can allow someone to truly feel something, that's real magic."

 

The Illusionists will be performing from Wednesday to September 7 at the Sheikh Rashid Hall Stage at the World Trade Centre. Ticket information is available at www.theillusionistsdubai.com

aahmed@thenational.ae