What is behind the trick? Giovanni Carta meets magician Michael Vincent

Il trucco c’è, ma non si vede [there is a trick, but it cannot be seen] is an Italian expression which is often said by a magician to describe a trick that has been just performed. I have always thought this phrase was a meaningless cliche – and probably it is – but after meeting the British magician Michael Vincent I started to consider it in a different way.

Michael and I are seated in a cafe. The sunlight comes through the window, enlightening our table where Michael has just spread a thick, green rag for magicians. He is a master of sleight of hand with cards. “I’ve been mastering sleight of hand since I was 10, and I am still practising today at the age of 51. The deck of cards is my instrument of choice and I have an affinity with it,” says Michael while shuffling cards. The trick he is about to show me is a combination of tactile sensibility, coordination and speed of thinking.

I am impressed with the trick. It is simply engaging and exciting. As for Michael, he looks very relaxed. This performance is all about discipline and training which are fundamental elements in Michael’s job. “There’s only about ten people in the world that do this particular trick. I don’t ever show this to magicians, I only do it in my private shows. I spent a year practising it. The whole trick is about conversation while the technique remains in the background,” says Michael minimising.

He, who is also a magic coach, thinks that a magician does not only have to perform great tricks, but has to be someone who establish a connection with their audience. “It has to be a completed perfect marriage of personality and deception. My job is to make sure my audience enjoys the process.” Michael’s magic is not just a demonstration of skills, but it is something to his public, to someone who can enjoy what Michael creates with his hands. Therefore it is very important that Michael keeps the right calmness. “I have to be prepared for when things go wrong, and part of my training over the last 40 years has been learning to be calm, controlled. So that I can access my resources in the moment, when the trick goes wrong. ‘Cause, you know, part of my belief is I wanna give my audience a beautiful experience. I wanna create an atmosphere of magic. The atmosphere is very important to me and if I create the right atmosphere the audience will feel it. Sometimes I’m doing magic for people that just don’t care, they’re not interested. It’s horrible!”

Over the years Michael has met, thanks to his love for magic, a great number of magicians. Some of them were also teachers and inspirational figures. “Alan Alan used to own a magic shop in London near the British Museum. I used to go to the shop every day because he was the only magic shop owner who took the time to have a conversation with me about magic.” The British escapologist died last year after a long illness and Michael talks about him with an authentic esteem. “Alan introduced me to a very famous individual by the name Cy Endfield. He was a Hollywood movie director and a very skillful magician, with cards, but I didn’t know him at that time. In 1982 Alan introduced me to the greatest Italian magician I’ve ever seen by the name of Slydini. He became a big inspiration for me because I saw real magic. I was 18 and I spent 4 days with Slydini and I’ve never seen him again. But in those 4 days he gave me everything I needed to be a great magician.”

If I think about Michael’s dedication, it does not surprise me to know that – apart from Alan, Endfield and Slydini – Michael was even inspired by the great Michelangelo Buonarroti. “From a single block he had the ability to see the image. It is extraordinary. It’s so beautiful to think that he created this by himself with a hammer and a chisel over four years. I thought to myself. If Michelangelo could do that, what about my complains of three, four hours practise. It’s nothing. When I practise my magic I have that in mind, because I know when I’m finished, I would have something very beautiful.”

Since 1991 Michael has been a professional magician. After winning several awards around the world and appearing in TV, he started to teach. “Every student I teach becomes part of my legacy. These young magicians, they will remember my name and say Michael Vincent showed me this. I believe my students are my best teachers. I’ve got to translate my knowledge, so they can understand it. So, my students teach me how to teach them. Because I can’t take for granted they would understand my way. I’ve got explain it in a simple language.”

The sunlight has gone and I ask Michael to show me another trick. I could watch him hours and I am sure I would not get bored. Yet again, his elegant deception naturally comes out. Then Michael takes a photo of me. “It’s for my photo blogging project,” he says. “My identity is quite large, and I like that. ‘Cause one thing I hate is putting things in a box,” he adds before leaving me.

Il trucco c’è, ma non si vede. Perhaps now I understand why the proverbial trick cannot be seen. How can you see 40 years of devotion and everyday preparation while your eyes are glued on cards? There is no trick without passion and discipline. Probably it is for this reason that we cannot see it. Because we forgot that behind the trick there is always something else.

March 2015.

Check Michael’s website: http://www.michaelvincentmagic.com/

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