The Toronto Star’s staff reporter, Alyshah Hasham, reviews her experience of a magic show in total darkness, by Chilean magician Juan Esteban Varela, where even the performer is blindfolded.
Luminato: ‘From the Dark’ — A magic show performed in total darkness
By Alyshah Hasham
Jun 16, 2012
Traditional magic tricks are all about the grand reveal.
Before your very eyes, promises the magician, the dove will disappear.
But how do you perform a vanishing trick when your audience is unable to see?
That’s the premise of renowned Chilean magician Juan Esteban Varela’s “From the Dark” — a magic show where both magician and the audience are blindfolded.”
Under the fluorescent lights in the lobby of Hart House Theatre I slip on a black blindfold, “surrendering my sight” to Maria Zambrano, the appointed guide for our group of 10.
The reassuring sliver of light around my nose fades as we queue in pairs to enter the darkness of the theatre.
One hand resting on the shoulder in front of us, we shuffle carefully toward Maria’s voice.
The theatre sounds crowded, but when I end up alone for a moment, waiting to be gently herded to my seat, I can’t tell whether the closest person is a foot or 10 feet away. It’s oddly paralyzing.
“If screaming starts we’ll leave,” the optimistic woman on my right tells her friend as we settle in. “For now, let’s embrace the madness.”
It is a magic show after all — though what that entails is the subject of much speculation as we wait in the darkness.
Varela told me earlier in the day that there would be some divination, some card tricks. Oh, and that somehow he’d make something disappear.
In the two years he has been doing this show, he once performed for the King of Spain and his sister Margarita, who has been blind since birth. After the show, she emotionally told him that that was the first time she understood what it meant for something to vanish before.
As I consider this, Maria places a small box on my lap, and tells me to strap it onto my leg.
Inside are various props including cards and a coin. We are all magician assistants in this show it seems.
Finally a hush. Varela speaks. He is sitting on the stage in front of us, he says, himself blindfolded to share this journey.
The theatre is dominated by his voice, which leads us through tricks performed with our own hands and the props from the box. He guesses which hand of a volunteer holds the medallion he gave her, confirmed by its metallic thud when dropped onto a table.
“I don’t want the spectator to have any other explanation,” Varela told me before the show. “They can’t say it happened so fast I didn’t see it. I want them to have no defence for the astonishment. I want the impossible to be a little more impossible.”
It took him 10 years to develop the show, which began as a way to share magic with people who are blind (the Luminato Festival performance is presented in collaboration with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind).
Over time it became a show for anyone, using blindfolds to allow the performance to take place inside the minds of the audience. That’s why Michael Weber, the director of the Canadian premiere of “From the Dark” ensures the theatre is never seen at all.
For Varela, the challenge is giving up the control of sight, being unable to study the faces of his audience and relying on their vocal cues.
As an illusionist he demands trust from the audience. But when you are all blindfolded, the trust has to go both ways.
And trust me, under your very nose, something does vanish.
Varela is performing this unique experience, From The Dark, as part of the Mind Over Matter magic series for Luminato 2012. Magicana is delighted to be presenting this Canadian premier under the direction of Michael Weber.
The show plays Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto. It lasts 75 minutes with no intermission. Admission is $35. Limited seats available. UofTtix Box Office / 416.978.8849 /www.uofttix.ca