Saturday, November 29, 2008

Magic Weekend

The first full day of the conference kicks off with the 25th annual close-up competition.

I sat in the wrong place for this, obviously, wanting to get a decent view of the proceedings. Unfortunately, my excellent seat meant I was picked on four times to "assist" - mom, I'm nearly famous. You have to feel sorry for these guys - up close and personal you can see just how nervous they are. Shaking hands, shaking voices, fluffed moves flashing things they would rather you didn't see. Some of them pulled it off better than others, and I did pick the eventual winner from his outstanding, and very confident and amusing, performance. Congratulations to Canada's Shawn Farquhar - well worth seeing should you ever have the chance.

The afternoon lectures were fascinating, Richard Turner kicking off with an hour expanding on his one-man show from yesterday, showing us exactly how he did all of his moves. Once again, even as he slows it down and tries to make it obvious, I still cannot see him actually false deal any of the cards. Amazing. David Kaplan and John Lovick also give us a number of excellent insights into their acts from the previous evening - an amazing afternoon.

Saturday night is the one we picked for the evening gala show. Compered by the very funny Noel Britten, it kicked off with Soma, from Hungary. A complex series of manipulations of mobile phones and coins to a driving musical accompaniment was interesting to watch for a while, but quickly got old, despite the technical skill in evidence. Just like those interminable card manipulation acts where fan after fan of cards are produced from thin air before being deposited in the top hat, there are only so many times you can watch the production of a fistful of mobile phones before you are willing the next act to appear.

Next up was David Kaplan from the US. This was more of a traditional "variety show" act, with some comedy magic and juggling, and was not Lynne's cup of tea. Whilst I prefer the "serious stuff" myself too, I could appreciate the skill in this act and the light relief was welcome after the very serious Soma.

Peter Samelson, from the US, did a wonderful performance. Very skillful, and with each trick presented as a story there was nothing quick-fire about this one, but it held interest right to the end.

Rafael, from Belguim, was up next. His act had left me a little cold the previous evening, and this one - the first of three appearances tonight, was worse. I hate quick change acts unless they are done VERY well, and this one was not done well, or even that quickly, at all. Glad to get that one out of the way.

The second half opened with another act that left me a little cold - but for a very different reason. Robert & Emiel (Netherlands) present a ’second sight’ act which portrays Robert as a ‘boy trapped in a mans body, having a special gift to see.’. The on-stage portrayal of the mentally challenged young man was disturbing for all the wrong reasons and made it hard to appreciate the content of the act.

This sort of act - with objects in the audience selected by the associate and named by the blindfolded person on-stage - I find very dull. They obviously rely on some form of hidden communication or code, and it is not something I find particularly clever. However, even I had to admire the skill of this pair as the pace picked up to an unbelievable level and still almost all the objects were named correctly, finishing with a driving licence description and correctly naming the serial number on a audience members £20 note. Shame about the "mentally challenged" angle, which made me uncomfortable throughout.

The organisers juxtaposed the acts superbly tonight, and after the unsettling mentalism act we were treated to an hilarious comedy juggling routine from the UK's Rob Lavar. Five ping pong balls from the mouth playing tunes on empty gin bottles - say no more.....

Andrew Goldenhersh (US) presented an extremely polished routine of some truly excellent magic. He produced a live butterfly from a tattoo on his arm, worked a wonderful misers dream routine with a very small and dangerously curious boy from the audience, and finished with an extremely slow and controlled straight jacket escape, producing unbroken eggs and a live chicken from the jacket as the finale.

Rafael appeared twice more, and completely redeemed himself. With the only "big stage" magic in evidence (i.e big props and multiple assistants) he had a lot resting on his shoulders, but his first routine - the animated woman - was amazing, After producing himself from a large box, he animated a body-less head, which then apparently floated over to a headless body on the other side of the stage before the body was then animated and walked around the stage.

Red Hat was a late addition to the show, performing a reasonably skillful, if somewhat tedious, mask manipulation act. Like Soma's mobile phones, there are only so many times you can produce a fist full of face masks before the audience (or at least this particular audience member) starts yawning. This has been done - and done better - by Jeff McBride, and I would not rush to see this guy again.

The third appearance from Rafael closed the show, and was a fitting finale. An assistant was placed in a clear box, and swords were pushed through slots trapping her in place. An almost instantaneous switch behind a cloth revealed he had apparently changed places with his assistant in the box, but as the swords were removed and he was released, it turned out to be the MC Noel Britten, Rafael eventually appearing in the audience.

A truly excellent show, and a great first day, made even better with the finding - and trying - of a really excellent (and cheap!) sushi restaurant right around the corner from our hotel.

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