Sun, Mar 20, 2005 - Page 7 News List

South Africa boasts the world's only college of magic

DPA , Cape Town

A pupil from the world's only magic school juggles batons during training for juggling, Cape Town, South Africa, last week. Two pupils from the school recently came first and second at the World Teenage Convention for Magic in Las Vegas. Also card tricks and illusions are on the school's timetable.

PHOTO: EPA

Situated in a large, old, red two-story Victorian mansion in the Cape Town suburb of Claremont, the world's only college of magic may lack the flying broomsticks of Harry Potter, but the school still evokes the atmosphere of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Dozens of children gather at the college each week to learn about magic.

Since 1980, more than 1,000 students have graduated with diplomas from the institution that is funded in part by acclaimed Las Vegas illusionists Siegfried and Roy.

Two final-year students recently took first and second prizes at the World Magic Convention in Las Vegas, and several former students are highly respected in the field of magic worldwide.

Milling about the corridors of the college on any given Saturday, "pick a card" is one of the most frequently voiced requests from aspiring teenage magicians in black and white wing-tip shirts, bow ties, waistcoats and jackets.

A gong signals the start of lessons in sleight-of-hand magic, illusion, juggling, mime and clowning.

"Today we are going to learn to make cards fly though the air," magician, college founder and lecturer David Gore tells the first- year class of boys between the ages of nine and 14.

The children closely study his hands and follow his light-hearted comments in anticipation of stepping out in front of their audience of peers for their own rendition of the close-up tricks they are refining.

Coins disappear, paperclips fuse, elastic bands jump around and flying playing cards confuse and wow the audience.

Distinct individual styles emerge as the children adapt their "patter."

In another room older students are dissecting the psychology of magic and performance, the importance of expression and the styles and techniques of some of the most successful names in the industry worldwide like David Copperfield, David Blaine, Harry Houdini, Paul Daniels and David Berglas.

Copperfield visited the college in the late 1990s. Other famous magicians from around the world have held lectures and seminars there.

"When you're ordinary and natural, the audience won't have a clue that you're about to produce a white tiger from your back pocket," the lecturer tells them.

Wade Petersen, who recently won the teenage section of the World Magic Convention in Las Vegas, is seated in the class.

"My act was around the theme of tea. Technically Nic (runner-up Nicholas Rix) and I scored the same. But I think the audience voted for me because, at the end of the act, I made tea appear in a cup that they saw was empty," the 17-year-old explains.

His hero is modern-day American wizard and celebrity Lance Burton, he says.

As a young child Petersen was eating at a restaurant one day when he observed a magician working the tables. "That's when I decided I want to learn magic. He was from the college," he recalls.

The teenager who hopes to study molecular chemistry after a return performance in Vegas next year, is due to graduate from the college at the end of the year.

For classmate 18-year-old Anele Makalani, one of a large number of Xhosa children from the impoverished Cape township of Khayelitsha who attend the college, taking up magic was not easy.

"I had a friend who was attending the college and he influenced me to come. The first time that I said to my mother I wanted to do magic, she said it was witchcraft," he said.

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