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‘Just say stop anywhere,” he says while flicking a deck of cards in his palm, “whenever you’re ready.” We’ve all seen some or other version of this scenario play out on television, in the theatre and (for some) on the streets. On this particular day, it happened to me.
Olwethu Dyanti, a College of Magic graduate who has represented SA in several international magic competitions, most recently in Italy, sat in front of me with a deck of cards in his hands. I remember that he told me that “for magicians, it’s always scary to get on stage” a little while earlier and wonder whether he’s nervous now. He seems to have it, and me, under control. I tell him to stop.
Dyanti first became enamoured by the art of magic in 2005 when he saw a friend perform in his home town of Khayelitsha.
“I was in Grade 8,” he remembers. “I loved magic and was curious about it. You know you have it in your mind that you want to make money, but this is actually an art. What they do at the magic school is that they try to help you to develop your act. It’s not just about magic, it’s also about how to be a good person. I didn’t have a chance to study at a suburb school, so it was hard for me to even speak (English) in public.”
Now, Dyanti, 19, is comfortable in both English and Xhosa, which he primarily uses when he performs in his township and at schools.
He smiles. “The act that I do now doesn’t involve speaking. There are certain categories in magic. There is the close-up category and stand-up magic, which includes comedy, but mine is stage magic. It’s good to watch stage magic in the theatre because then there’s acting and music and dancing. I started out as a dancer, you see, so now I try to combine dancing with magic and I’ve got good feedback about it.”
Comprising mostly sleight-of-hand magic, Dyanti’s act is one that he hopes will thrill the audience when he performs it at the Traditional Children’s Magic Festival, which will feature a host of magicians and other variety acts from Tuesday to Saturday.
It’s also an act that he is hoping to refine by the time he has to attend the World Magic Championships in the UK on July 12. Aside from attending five days of workshops at the event, this fan of Lance Burton and David Copperfield will be in the company of about 2 000 magicians and will be one of 200 to compete for the title of World Magic Champion.
He has made friends with some of the best across the globe, and I ask Dyanti how SA fares against the magic industry in other parts of the world. “SA is very different because we have a place like the College of Magic where there are people who help you,” he says, “Magic students in other countries have to work alone or watch DVDs to learn. We come up with our own stories and are more creative.”
“Creative” is an apt word, as I discover once he gives me back the card I’d pulled out of the deck when I told him to stop flipping them. It’s almost charred – no one saw a match or fire on hand – but when I look at it there’s no doubting that’s the card that I had picked. It’s one thing to see this kind of act be pulled off on someone else, it’s quite something to have it done to you. So go to the Magic Festival and you may be lucky.
• The Traditional Children’s Magic Festival takes place at the College of Magic at 215 Lansdowne Road, Claremont, at 10.30am and 2.30pm daily from tomorrow to Saturday, June 30. Tickets are R50. For more information, call 021 683 5480.