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Saturday, 2 December, 2000, 08:26 GMT
David Blaine: No Illusions
The magician David Blaine
This week he spent 58 hours encased in an "ice tomb" in Times Square. David Blaine is fast becoming the biggest name in magic. By Andrew Walker of the BBC's News Profiles Unit.

David Blaine's opening conversational gambit is every bit as unconventional as the man himself. It takes a special kind of person to get away with stopping passers-by in the street and asking: "Can I show you something that transcends the mind?"

But that is exactly what he does, before proceeding to confound his audience of one with a series of mind-boggling illusions. For David Blaine is the fastest-rising star in the world of magic, taking his dazzling abilities off the small screen and onto the streets.

Think of magic. Think Paul Daniels, Tommy Cooper, frilly shirts, glamorous assistants being sawed in half, rabbits produced from top hats. Think again.

David Blaine encased in ice
Mr Cool: David Blaine encased in ice
In his black woolly hat, cargo pants and T-shirt, David Blaine is more Dolce & Gabbana than David Nixon - a streetwise magician with an attitude to match. "I'm not a trained seal", he says. "I have to feel like it." If magic is the new rock'n'roll, Blaine is its Elvis.

His street conjuring has stunned people from Brooklyn to Brazil, Hammersmith to Haiti.

He will ask a passer-by to pick a card and put it back in the pack before throwing the cards at a nearby shop window. All the cards will fall to the ground. All, that is, except the chosen card, which will appear behind the window.

Levitiation

A woman is asked to give Blaine the name of a special friend. As she does, he points out a yellow taxi driving past with the name, Dawn, written on its door.


He's doing magic a world of good

Jack Delvin, the Magic Circle
Wristwatches speed up, a beggar's cup fills to the brim with coins, cards appear in beer bottles and back pockets, and then the pièce-de-résistance. Without any apparent effort, David Blaine rises six inches in the air slap-bang in the middle of a bar full of incredulous drinkers.

The Brooklyn-born magician has been performing tricks since the age of four and, during the mid-90s, after establishing himself as a master of close magic in the trendy bars of New York and New Jersey, he set out for the West Coast.

Illustrious following

Before long David Blaine had become a favourite of the superstar party circuit, where he charmed Tinseltown's great and good, and was soon hanging out with Madonna, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Not bad for an unknown magician with no discernible track record.

Paul Daniels
Not a lot like David Blaine
Armed with this illustrious following he walked into ABC's Manhattan office in 1997 and treated the company's executives to a series of card tricks before sealing a million-dollar television contract by levitating right there in the boardroom.

The fast-paced documentary style of his Street Magic shows has proved an instant hit throughout the world, dusting-off and reinvigorating magic's image.

Then there was the Peugeot TV commercial featuring his catchphrase, "This is not your card. I repeat, this is not your card."


If there's no connection, there's no magic

David Blaine
Jack Delvin, spokesman for the Magic Circle, says that Blaine's success is based on a return to magic's roots. "There's nothing new with street magic," he says. "People have earned their living from it since day one, when they performed the cup and balls trick in ancient Egypt.

"David Blaine is different to most street magicians, though. He owns his own company and only does television."

But David Blaine is not to everyone's taste. The Scottish magician and comedian, Jerry Sadowitz, no friend of the profession's establishment himself, derides him as "David Bland" and Blaine found the worldly-wise British far more difficult to impress than Americans or Amazon Indians.

David Blain buried alive in a glass box in 1999
In a glass coffin under a pavement in April 1999
What is not in doubt, though, is David Blaine's supreme skill as a technical magician which he uses to transcend the world of illusions.

He speaks of needing to "affect" those for whom he performs, to touch a personal nerve. Hence the coins in the beggar's cup. "My favourite part is when I connect," he says. "If there's no connection, there's no magic."

"He's doing magic a world of good", says Jack Delvin. "There have been precious few magicians on television since the BBC dropped Paul Daniels. Magic is looking for new characters and new stars."

The truth of the matter is, one suspects, that people are as much in love with the star quality of this quietly spoken young man, and the aura of mystery which surrounds him, as they are with his phenomenal abilities as an illusionist.


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