My friend is a magician, but he doesn't have a magic wand. And yet, I do understand him. I never laid my hands on the magic kit made of cardboard I received from Santa when I was 7. In my mind, a magician was a conman, and I wasn't going to be fooled! That's why I stayed a thousand miles away from the world of magic for a quarter of a century.
My friend is a magician and his name is... No, not yet. I'll tell you his name later on. Because before I do, let me tell you about a long and beautiful journey I went on in Paris, Brussels, and in particular Las Vegas. I want to share with you parts of this journey that introduced me to many magicians, including the greatest and some of the most extraordinary ones. They showed me the real face of magic.
First, there was Patrick, a magician from Brussels. His encounter was a gift, not in a box but a lesson in magic from his comfy and beautiful leather sofas. And there and then, that's when the penny dropped! After long discussions with Patrick, my path appeared before me. I gained a life-long friend and a passion.
Alex shares part of his journey during his performances
3 years later, I received another gift, at the same time of the year, and not by magic; I just happened to have been born a week before Christmas, so I always receive gifts at the same moment. That year, it was a big one. I'm going to Las Vegas to attend the “Magic & Meaning” conferences and to meet my idols: Jeff McBride, Eugene Burger and Lawrence Hass. To give you some idea, if you like the movies, it is like going to Hollywood and meeting Tommy Lee Jones, Audrey Tautou and Brad Pitt, all at the same time!
Meeting them literally transformed me. Beyond magic, I was overwhelmed by their kindness, their benevolence, their mastery, their willingness to help others, and their humbleness when teaching their art. I found myself at the center of a community whose goal is to look at magic from another perspective, one that goes beyond the litany and cliché of old tricks and which rather seeks to add meaning, emotion and inspiration.
When conferences start, we are about fifty people who already all know each other. Because before every event that Jeff McBride organizes, he hosts a party at his home, aptly called “The House of Mystery,” and we are immediately immersed into his world. Jeff summarizes it very well when he takes you under his wing:
“Mysteries are not to be explained. They have to be experienced!”
It's a meeting among friends. And, more and more, I begin to understand that magic needs friendship, because a friend will never fool you, or mock you, in the way I imagined the common magician would, when I was a young boy. It was the environment I needed to bloom and grow in this amazing universe.
As Lawrence Hass says:
“Magic is not at all about fooling or tricking people. Magic exists to give them energy, delight and wonder.”
Alex performing during shows
Incidentally, I had the phenomenal luck to have Lawrence Hass as my mentor. I have thousands of stories and moments to share about him, like the time when I co-produced one of his European tours! Something you may not know, is that Lawrence is not only a great magician, he's also a Professor in Philosophy. I feel very close to him.
And last, there was Eugene Burger (deceased in 2017,) also a University Professor in Philosophy and History of Religions.
“The magician has a role to play. It is reminding people, who grew up in a highly technological society, of things we are in danger of forgetting. Things are not always what they seem to be. Magic says what you think is impossible, might be possible after all.”
The simplest magic trick can be transformed into a moment of philosophy. Watch this experience, listen to what he says using a simple spool of thread. Meaning is in the smallest things; it only needs a look full of benevolence and poetry to reveal it.
In essence, the magician cannot be reduced to the role of an “exhibitor of tricks”. I'm often outraged at this idea, as it is so disrespectful for the art they are supposed to serve, to love, and to perform. It would be as if you limited the art of painting to only water colors because that's what you learned in kindergarten! A ridiculous and hurtful notion for the Van Gogh's, the Rembrandt's and other Picasso's. What about all the other techniques and, more importantly, what about wonder, the search for meaning, poetry, emotion, or inspiration? And then, for fear of repeating myself, who would like to befriend a fraud? I hope not you, and certainly not me. I am both a magician and your friend.
What I learned about magic from Brussels to Las Vegas via Paris, is something different. My most precious memory is linked to an experience with Eugene Burger. Before one of his shows, he took me aside and gave me the greatest gift of all: a personal, private performance, just for me. It was an unforgettable experience, close-up magic, a cherished moment that remains to this day a complete reference for me.
Imagine my astonishment, my joy, and my emotion. It was the coincidence effect that left its mark on me: I randomly select a card and in a nearby card box, I find its mate. Always. Not once, but 3 times in a row, with 3 different cards!
To understand magic, think back to some of the coincidences in your life. As you relive them, don't they sometimes feel magical? There is magic in coincidences and coincidences are magical. Friendship can start from a coincidence, so does love when you find your mate. Magic and philosophy are often 2 sides of a same coin.
Ancient coins are objects of manipulation and meditation to Alex
Coins are, by the way, my favorite objects in close up magic. I use old one-dollar or half-dollar coins. I always have some on me. They are even more impressive to use than cards, because the effects seem to be even more... impossible. I also use them as objects for meditation.
To experience something impossible is a gift you don't expect! This allows you to put into perspective what appears fixed, obvious, or meaningless, to take a step back from our fears or beliefs, and more importantly to tell ourselves there is always another way. That's why I chose magic. And that's where the future of magicians lies.
But my story doesn't end here. It continues from where I began. I still have to reveal 2 things to you. The first one, I promised, is the name of my magician friend.
We are in 2006, in a restaurant located in the XII district of Paris. I am here with my colleagues in a dedicated space, the walls and sofas are red. The cuisine is French, and the atmosphere rather chic and classy. At that time, I worked in IT. During pre-dinner drinks, a magician comes over to us and does little more than performing a few uninteresting tricks. But he is not my friend. Of him, I luckily have no recollection. But, after the dinner, all my colleagues turn their eyes to Marc. He takes out a few cards and tells us a story along with mesmerizing effects. He made an long-lasting impact on me. I immediately told myself if he can do it, I can do it too. For my birthday, I gifted myself my first box with 12 decks of cards of professional quality. Then I trained with Marc. My passion for «close-up» (magic up close) was born. You already know what follows.
My friend is a magician, his name is Marc. I then met other people and made new friends, Patrick, Jeff, Eugene, Lawrence and a few others. Their common traits? There were all magicians, often philosophers, humanists, and all loved to tell stories. The secret to performing close-up magic is not magic: it's friendship. Among friends, we feel comfortable, we trust each other, and we can create the ideal circumstances for magic to happen, and to prepare for the impossible.
I still have one more thing to reveal. This story is my story. I recently told it to another person. His work looks like magic, but it's not. His work is about staging stories with his words. He is a storyteller. Our encounter was inevitable. He transformed hours of conversation with me and countless pages of text I'd written - I can sometimes be quite verbose - in less than 1500 words. And you've just read them! It was his turn to make me experience the impossible, and allow me to emotionally re-live some of the greatest moments of my life. Now that's magic!
Photos by Eva Barbara, Manu Thibault, and Sébastien Devienne