An Interview with Alexx Alexxander

AlexxPortr
“Everything was an obstacle with this illusion”

 

Congratulations on that Vanishing and Reappearing Lake Illusion, Alexx! Did you come up with the idea yourself, or who inspired you?

Alexx Alexxander: Yes I actually did, but the entire project was a collaboration with the City of Oslo. They were hosting a celebration as they were appointed “European Green Capital 2019”. In that regard they came to me and asked me if I could make an impossible and new illusion that had never been done before. I said I could, and that was when the idea of using water came along. Water is a necessary ressource for us, and in Oslo there is only one source for water, Lake Maridal. So I decided to attempt something that was never done before by any magician in the world: to make the great Lake Maridal disappear.

How long did it take to develop the concept from idea to performance?

Just over a year we worked on it to be able to do it. We actually had to come up with a brand new concept in magic to be able to pull it off. We couldn’t use old principles. It didn’t work. It was a challenging illusion as I wanted to have a live audience present when we did it. Another challenge was to find the right location. The production looks small and easy, but it was really not. There were so many people involved in this, and the production time took forever. And we used months just for testing. My own crew worked around the clock.

We hear that the late Don Wayne was consulting on this…

Yes, that’s right. He and I have been working together for years. He has helped out with ideas for my live show and he has made unique illusions for me. The first big scale illusion we did together was the disappearance of a gas station.

On the lake illusion, when we figured out just how to be able to do the illusion, Don made the drawings on how we had to build what was required. We also worked with the brilliant Tim Tønnessen whom I’ve been working with for many years. He was the person who figured out the new principle that we used. He has a clever mind, and has also known Don for years. We made a really good team.

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What were the reactions of the media and of the magic community in Norway on this illusion?

The reactions were amazing. All of the Norwegian press covered it, and the City of Oslo made an event on the 16th of June where we released the illusion to the public for the first time. It was a great sight of thousands of people that came to witness it. There were more people than they expected, it was a completely full venue.

Everywhere I go now, people come up to me and talk about this illusion. Everyone has heard about it or seen it in the papers or on TV.

Can you share what the main obstacles were in making this trick happen?

Everything was an obstacle with this illusion! We tried all principles of magic, but none of them worked. The lake is so big and in constant movement, and everywhere around there’s forest with trees and branches that move in the wind. And here in Norway the weather can be a challenge, and it really was during this. We had so much wind, rain and just impossible working conditions.

We had to do everything secretly so that no one would figure out what I was attempting. The City of Oslo was very helpful with everything we needed. My vision was to do it live, but because of the weather challenges we had to film it a couple of days before and launch it on the 16th of June. But I got a standing ovation for it at the event, so I’m very pleased.

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What’s next on your agenda?

This autumn I’m touring Norway with my grand illusion show. I’m also traveling to Las Vegas for an exciting event during the tour. Next year I’m filming my own TV-special and taking my show abroad. A year ago, I performed in Mumbai, India. I’m also going back there. Very excited about that. Hopefully I will also come to more countries in Europe soon!

Thank you, Alexx, and good luck for your upcoming ventures!

(Interview: Jan Isenbart)

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Find more news on Alexx, his tour schedule and projects here.

See the video of Lake Maridal here:

And here’s the discussion of this illusion and similar ones or its predecessors over at the Genii Forum.


 

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Some Collected Impressions from the 8th EMHC in Vienna

EMHC Vienna 2019 Head

Traveling back now from Vienna on Sunday evening, the 8th edition of the European Magic History Conference is already (very recent) history. I am more than happy to have made the trip and to have attended for the first time!

My head is spinning with interesting facts and insights from a total of 16 lectures; I have met a few familiar faces and made many new acquaintances; my magic collection has grown through a few pieces I was able to acquire; my own presentation found some kind interest; and a couple of exciting new books are about to appear!

Overall, rubbing shoulders with some of magic‘s greatest historians / collectors / luminaries like Edwin Dawes, John Gaughan, Mike Caveney, Roberto Giobbi, The Davenports, our host Magic Christian and many others has been a reverent and rewarding experience!

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Now if this blog were more tabloid style, I could yell out headlines like these:

Dutch Magician Decapitates Rabbit!
Renowned Book Collector Considered Buying A Buried Witch‘s Bones!
Famous U.S. Collector May Bring His Treasures Back Into Barnes and Attics!

 

But of course I won’t. Fortunately, I am more of the serious and responsible writing kind! However, I have no intention of giving a full and thorough review of the conference; I was there to listen, learn, and discuss. So what follows are just some facts, highlights and side notes from my very personal point of view.

For the full program and abstracts of all lectures, have a look here. For the details and the laughs you simply had to be there–sorry! But as a glimpse into the program will reveal, the diverse agenda catered to almost every field of interest: biographical notes and details on some performers and venues; books old and new and how to study them; collectors’ items; some case studies (on a gruesome illusion, a fake automaton, a famous painting, and an early trick deck from 1623), and two topics on magicians serving in wartime and political crisis.

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Shortly before the conference, Magic Christian had already announced a major surprise: the resurfacing of a fine and known Hofzinser portrait, painted by Johann Matthäus Aigner in 1846, that had been missing for almost a century. Christian had been looking for it for 25 years, mainly in museums and other collections. Then, only weeks ago, he received a phone call from a lady who offered him to acquire this huge portrait from an estate. It had in fact been hanging in a private home in Gmunden for the last 100 years! Proudly, Christian unveiled it and presented it to the participants, who were duly impressed!

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I must say I enjoyed all the talks, as diverse as they were in terms of topic, material, and presentation, but I took the most fresh knowledge and inspiration from these contributions:

Flip tracing the history of the “Decapitation Illusion”, as always with an abundance of pictures and information, and also with a word of criticism on the “trivialized” versions like “Forgetful Freddie” and the “Armcutter”. To prove his point, he successfully (non)decapitated a toy rabbit.

James and Sage Hagy with a vivid description of the magicians present (including Houdini) and their tricks at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. They very graciously handed out free copies of a beautiful little book they had prepared along their topic.

Steffen Taut shared some amazingly enlarged pictures (look here, zoom in and marvel!) and recent scientific methods to (re)assess the paintings of Jheronimus Bosch (correctly pronounced “Boss”), and he added some interesting new hypotheses on a number of details, symbols, and meanings of “The Juggler.” He concluded that there may have been an original version of this famous painting; the one we know and admire, however, was more likely painted “only” in his workshop or by a follower, but not by Bosch himself.

Francois Bost presented some exciting new findings from his own long-standing research on Robert-Houdin‘s political mission to Algiers in 1856, including a heretofore unknown letter from RH to Colonel de Neveu (who had won him for the trip). He concluded that RH had in fact played to a selected, peaceful audience of civil servants (instead of fierce, hostile Marabouts) and that the mission had caused little impact (although it was boosted by the press and RH himself), but had probably served as an early military attempt to test psychological warfare on a people with the help of a renowned magician! (This topics tied in nicely with my own presentation on magic and warfare.)

Ron Bertolla deserves our special appreciation for introducing us to French juggler-turned-creator Alain Cabooter and his wonderful (fake) automaton, “Ioni, The Magical Gymnast” (see below). Not only did he show a truly magical video presentation of Ioni’s astonishing feats at the horizontal bar, which caused thunderous applause; he also brought the treasured figure (now defunct) with their current owners to Vienna and handed out a free booklet with the full (and unhappy) story. Wow!

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Again, I can’t help but marvel at the incredibly rich and diverse history of magic, its ingenious creators and performers, and its myriad links to other arts or historical events!

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The Venue

The EMHC Conference was held at the Hotel Stefanie, Vienna‘s oldest hotel, and their service team supplied us unobtrusively with a never-ending stream of tasty food, snacks, and drinks.

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Evening Entertainment…

…included a musical and magical dinner at Marchfelderhof on Thursday. When our bus arrived there, we were greeted and treated by the owner and his team with music and flags. Inside, the fine and fun restaurant is ridiculously but charmingly loaded with thousands of  items—lamps, musical instruments, pictures, signed photographs, figurines and what not (see below). As some collector‘s spouse suspiciously opined, the trip was probably taken to demonstrate „that other collectors put much more stuff in their rooms, see, Honey?“

The magic between courses was provided by Magic Christian, Flo Mayer and Wolfgang Moser.

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Friday evening was spent three stories down below city level in the very old Zwölf Apostelkeller, with traditional Viennese food and some fine strolling magic performed by Robert Woitsch and Raphael Macho.

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Saturday afternoon saw us walking over to Vienna‘s huge and impressive City Hall (with 1,575 rooms, as a plaque said). After a formal reception at the invitation of the Mayor and Governor of Vienna, Dr. Michael Ludwig, we were ushered into the City Council where we marveled at the splendor of the enormous flambeau above us and soon took over the green felt tables. Reinhard Müller was the first to have the cards out. Soon after, Magic Christian performed an Ace routine (with a fine Graziadei subtlety) on this parliamentary stage where, on other days, more subtle deceptive maneuvers may be executed.

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Before attacking another buffet, we were treated with a magic show of one piece each by Robert Woitsch, Mark Albert, Wolfgang Moser and Flo Mayer. With the exception of Wolfgang Moser, all featured performers over those three days hail from the Magischer Club Wien, of which Magic Christian is the President.

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What about the Future?

The conference closed on Sunday noon with an interesting talk on the future of magic collections, how to maintain them, and all owners’ responsibility to take care of their treasures and their knowledge in due time so collections neither get thrown away, nor scattered all over the world, nor disappear in obscure museums, but rather remain within the magic community and “the big river” from which the next generation of collectors may fish.

A second topic was how to get younger magic fellows interested in the old books and tricks of our art and how to facilitate their entry into the fields of history and collecting. (I might write more about these topics in a future post.)

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Next European Magic & History Conferences:

At least, the immediate future is safe and secured: The participants confirmed to have the next meeting in London in September 2021, organized by Fergus Roy, who already announced some exciting highlights, including a look into a rather unknown collection of 1 million (!) posters. The 2023 Conference is scheduled to be held in Gent, Belgium then.

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New Book Department:

November will see the publication of the coming Bible of Bookplates (please excuse the trivialized secular term, but the alliteration was too tempting) by the late Jim Alfredson and Bernhard Schmitz. About six years in the making, Bernhard and the sic! Verlag are currently putting the final touches on the book, which will present about 1,200 magic bookplates that have been identified yet! If you want your bookplate to be included also, make sure to send it to Bernhard before October 1st!

Birgit Bartl-Engelhardt and Wittus Witt will bring out a quick encore and addition to the beautiful Zauber-Bartl Chronology (in German) that was presented to the market just last week. This one will trace the story of the „Zauberkönig“ magic dealers family, to which Rosa Bartl also belonged. (Accompanying his conference presentation, Wittus also has a lovely small book out that features about 300 magic lapel pins. It comes both with an English and a German text.)

And finally, after about 40 (!) years in the making, Volker Huber and Christian Theiß have completed the long awaited Bibliography of German Magic Books until 1945, covering some 3,100 books and booklets on 700 pages. What a monumental achievement! It will most likely set the standard for decades to come. Whether a second volume covering books from 1945 til today will follow is currently unclear, as Christian said. And if so, it might well be a decade or more away. Let’s hope and see–and in the meantime, let’s be happy about and thankful for the first volume before asking for more!

All three books are available for subscription now. Do now what you have to do! 🙂

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Magic coincidence No. 1: A surprising discovery

I may have found an interesting historical magic reference in the cheap decoration of my hotel room. Look at the depiction of that old and grim Japanese warrior above: If it‘s not some sort of fly swat, he may be handling a huge magic paddle! 😉

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Magic coincidence No. 2: A spooky discovery

Taking a stroll after Peter Rawert’s enlightening presentation on books‘ provenance research (a fascinating topic I had never even thought about before), his acquisition of a copy of Reginald Scot‘s seminal work and its link to the alleged witch Ursula Kemp (whose alleged bones he almost ended up buying!), the first shop window I looked at belonged to an art gallery and presented this painting, „Witches‘ Sabbath“ by one Bonaventura Genelli!

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Magic coincidence No. 3: A weighty discovery

Noticing this statue in the heart of magic Vienna, some of us speculated it could well be our host’s very own one, with MCD meaning “Magic Christian Denkmal” (in German) or MCM meaning “Magic Christian Memorial,” erected by his grateful admirers and disciples… 😉

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Jokes aside, we can only conclude by thanking and applauding Magic Christian once more for being such a very gracious and caring host who offered us over four days a cornucopia of magic history, both from our field and from the wonderful city of Vienna!

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More Magic in Vienna:

While being there, you may also want to check out the Museum der Illusionen (Museum of Illusions; I guess you figured that one out) with its fine optical illusions.

And in line with it, there’s currently a dazzling exhibition (until 26 October, 2019) at the mumok museum, Vertigo. Op Art and a History of Deception 1520–1970.”

(Jan Isenbart)


Addendum 29.08.2019

And here’s a full review of the conference by Ian Keable of the UK, who had presented a lecture on the four magicians in Charles Dickens’s life.


 

Hans Klok eröffnet Las Vegas Show

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Hans Klok Instagram Screenshot

Hans Klok hat am 29. Juli seine neue Show in Las Vegas erstmals auf die Bühne gebracht. Er tritt nun täglich (außer freitags) im frisch renovierten Thunderland Showroom des Hotels Excalibur auf. In dem 70-minütigen Programm verspricht der selbsternannte “schnellste Zauberer der Welt” 50 Illusionen. Der Showroom bietet 425 Gästen Platz, Klok teilt ihn sich mit einer Bee Gees-Tribut-Show und einer Männer-Strip-Show. Die Ticketpreise beginnen bei 45 Dollar. Zuletzt trat Klok 2007 in Las Vegas auf, zeitweilig unterstützt von Pamela Anderson als Assistentin.

Online-Kritiken habe ich bislang keine gefunden, aber hier ist ein Vorschau-Artikel aus dem Las Vegas Review Journal.


 

Alexx Alexxander lässt See verschwinden

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Video Screenshot

Der norwegische Illusionist Alexx Alexxander hat kürzlich eine wirklich große Großillusion vollbracht: Innerhalb weniger Sekunden entleerte er den 3,7 Quadratkilometer großen Maridalsee bei Oslo und füllte ihn kurz danach wieder auf. Ein Live-Publikum von ca. zehn Personen beobachtete das Geschehen von einem Hang aus, Kameratricks kamen laut Alexxander nicht zum Einsatz. Als Berater fungierte offenbar noch der leider vor kurzem verstorbene Don Wayne.

Trotz einiger Bemühungen – Ankunft auf schwerem Motorrad, Leder-Look, direkte und bedeutungsschwangere Anmoderation des Wunders in die Kamera, Edvard Griegs Klavierkonzert als Begleitmusik, Zuschauer-Reaktionen in Zeitlupe – kam in der etwas biederen Inszenierung nicht gerade das typische Copperfield-Flair auf. Der (warum auch immer) nur spärlich gefüllte Plastik-Pitcher, der hier zum Einsatz kam, ruft vielleicht sogar manch unfreiwilligen Lacher hervor. Dennoch hat diese Illusion m.E. mehr Aufmerksamkeit als bisher verdient!

Hier ist das Video:


 

In the Conjuror’s Kitchen

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Website screenshot

Some of you will remember that a few years back Annabel de Vetten ran a shop that featured her graphic magic art: black-white-red pop art renditions of Vernon, Mandrake and other luminaries. (In fact, I dedicated a very early blog entry to her snappy paintings but neglected to buy one, stupid me!) She had also created the cutting-edge designed “Jill Deck” with Card-Shark Christian Schenk back then. Sadly, she seemed to have closed that business when she turned to magic edible art. Upon her own wedding (to a magician, would you have guessed?) she made her own magic wedding cake. But that turn in career was not only a loss. Under the label “Conjuror’s Kitchen” she creates the most magical and spooky sweet stuff I have ever seen.

Look at the above screenshot from her website: Wouldn’t you love to have such a classy cake at your next big celebration, either at home or at the magic club?! And even better, produce it from your dusted-off Square Circle or Super Dove Pan? I certainly would!

Don’t be shy. Her website portrait claims, “If you can eat it, she can warp it into some form you’ve never dreamed of.” As she further states, “Our favourite conversations start with, ‘Now, …this might sound a little weird…’

Excuse me for a minute, I do need some chocolate now!


 

Peter “The Painter” Warlock

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The Davenport Collection website screenshot

It’s not uncommon for magicians to pursue other creative ventures, like painting, shadowgraphy (Dai Vernon‘s main source of income) or edible magic art (Annabel de Vetten). Please have a look in my “Magic Art” section for numerous other bits and links.

As I just noticed on The Davenport Collection website (a fine and growing resource for magic history buffs!), magician and mentalist Peter Warlock was also an anbitious amateur painter. Several examples from the Davenport collection are on display there, including some where he tried his hand on trompe de l’oeil art (which links him with Georges Méliès, see an upcoming post).

Above you see his rendition of Buatier de Kolta performing his unique “Expanding Die” illusion.


 

Rarely Seen Tricks (1): Leg Illusion

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I must admit that I had never seen this illusion before. I found these pictures and a desciption in a manuscript by past editor Donald Bevan on Goodliffe, founder of Abracadabra magazine.

According to Bevan, “Leg Illusion” was the only notable magic invention by Goodliffe, as you can read here.


 

A Word on Dani Lary

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YouTube Screenshot

Boy, you gotta love that small, Napoleonic Frenchman and grand illusionist! Just spent a pleasant morning enjoying about ten of his presentations on Patrick Sebastien’s “Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde”. Did you know that Dani Lary has closed each month’s program there with a fresh illusion for the past twenty years? That’s quite an accomplishment!

Yes, he’s very much into boxes and cabinets, dim lighting and fog, vanishes and transformations, but then, which illusionist isn’t? I love the gorgeous scenes and ornate props, the playfulness of his crew, the music, and the romantic moments incorporated. Not to mention the array of classic cars used in some illusions, or his appearing steam train.

Get yourself a treat and get started here or here!


 

Magic Exhibitions in London

Speaking of magic exhibitions: “Staging Magic” has opened in London and promises to tell “the story behind the illusion.” It will be enhanced by special events and film screenings. You can see it at the Senate House Library, which is part of the University of London, until June 15th.

Staging Magic London

Another exhibition, “Smoke and Mirrors”, will open April 11th at the Wellcome Collection in London and run until September 15th. On that occasion, a new book on magic will be published: “Spectacle of Illusion” by Matthew Tompkins, who, according to the site, “recently became the first member of the Magic Circle to be admitted on the basis of a peer-reviewed scientific publication.”

Spec of Illusion