Unlike traditional and carnival-variety magicians, David Blaine wears neither a tux nor a top hat from which he can pull out a rabbit. He doesn’t wield a wand or lug around boxes, strings, velvet curtains and mirrors. Scantily clad assistants to saw in half? None of that.
Give him a deck of cards, plus one willing spectator, and Blaine can spend an entire afternoon pulling one dumbfounding trick after another.
In fact, he utilized plain water to great effect in the opening routine of his recent show at Smart Araneta Coliseum called “Real or Magic,” mounted by Ovation Productions.
In his usual black shirt and cargo pants, the American illusionist began his act by downing copious amounts of water, warning—in between bottles— about drinking too much of the liquid too quickly.
“Water intoxication” could be fatal, he said. “The stomach can barely hold 3 liters,” he pointed out, as he chugged his third liter. “I fasted, so I could do this.”
He took a swig of a flammable fluid and heaved it toward a torch that quickly caught fire. With an air of nonchalance, the magician turned himself into a human spout, dousing the flames with all the water he had drunk.
The crowd, mostly young fans with their parents, was promptly reduced to a chorus of “oohhs” and “ahhs,” before breaking into resounding applause. “How did he do that?” the boy next to us asked his father. He would ask the same question again and again throughout the show.
Blaine rose to stardom a few years ago for his addictive television specials in which he took magic from the stage to the streets, where he cornered bystanders to be his audience. He dished out card tricks, levitated, turned coffee in a mug into coins and guessed the names of complete strangers’ loved ones. Reactions were always the same—a piercing shriek or a mouthful of curses, followed by crackling laughter.
Doing his thing on stage didn’t elicit quite the same level of engagement for Blaine and those seated far from the stage mostly had to settle with watching on the jumbo screens. So the illusionist, who made his debut on US television in 1997, proceeded to recreate that distinct street magic experience by personally plucking volunteers from the crowd.
Card tricks have always been Blaine’s bread and butter, and he did a couple of the most popular ones in this show. The most impressive of the lot was making a crinkled card lodged in the middle of the deck appear on top with a mere snap of his fingers. Or the one in which he added three cards to the 10 that a volunteer was holding without going near her.
Blaine likewise stunned his fans with the puzzle trick: He asked a young girl to pick one of the 2,000 differently shaped pieces inside a glass vessel. The one that the girl drew turned out to be the missing piece in a preassembled puzzle hidden on the left side of the stage.
He had the faint-hearted screaming, cringing and looking away from the screens when he asked another girl to impale his hand with an ice pick. There was no blood but the pick made a bump on David’s palm, threatening to go through the skin.
Outside of the nifty little tricks, Blaine has also been called an “endurance artist” due to high-profile stunts that push physical and mental capabilities—for instance, being suspended upside down for 60 hours, spending seven days in a transparent coffin with just 15 centimeters of head room and being encased in a block of ice for 62 hours.
Blaine ended the show using what he started it with—water, 2,000 liters of it, inside a water tank installed at the back end of the patron section. He was to hold his breath underwater for as long as he could. (His record time is 17 minutes and 4.4 seconds, accomplished in 2008 during a live telecast of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”)
Three minutes into the routine, a skeptical woman volunteered to join Blaine (and some fish) in the tank to rule out trickery. She didn’t last more than a few seconds.
Up till then, Blaine had remained calm and kept his movements to a minimum; he managed a wink or a nod whenever the fans—some of whom held their breaths as well—erupted into cheers with each passing minute. Others crowded around the tank to take photos.
On the six-minute mark, Blaine started showing signs of struggle—he looked strained, eyes shut and veins on his neck bulging. As he reached his 10th minute, his body started convulsing. The clock read
10:29:15 when he surfaced, gasping for air—it was a record on this Asian tour, the emcee declared, nowhere near his all-time record but still very impressive.
By that time, we were asking the question: “How did he do that?”