An Education in Magic—watching Tony Slydini for the first time.
The closest thing I have ever seen to perfection in magic was sitting next to Slydini and watching him perform his unbelievable sleight of hand. I was about eighteen years old and had absolutely no idea who Tony Slydini was other than he had inventing the ‘paper balls over head’ and that was enough to capture my interest right there.
As was the case in so much of my early years in magic it was Ken Brooke who introduced me to this milestone in magic. “Nicky” he said, “ I’ve got a little teaching session going on next Wednesday night. It will cost you twenty quid but you will never regret it.” I immediately agreed and started to quiz him it about what it was all about. When he answered, “Slydini is in town.” I nodded like I knew what he was talking about.
The next Wednesday evening I was sitting in Ken’s studio on Wardour Street. Ken had put together a couple of card tables and arranged chairs around them. Gradually the other participants arrived for the teaching session and took their places around the table. To my delight I was seated next to Pat Page who was a hero of mine. Eventually the great man arrived and the evening began and what an evening it turned out to be.
While it was nominally a teaching experience I have never been so badly fooled in my life. I will merely say, Slydini was, and still is, the greatest single close up performer I have ever witnessed. At the very end of the session he said, “Try it one more time.” As he slid a stack of coins across the table to me I reached for the coins and discovered they were not there. Once again I had been fooled by the best.
Now, if you weren’t lucky enough to have seen Slydini perform there isn’t much I can say about him that can even give you a taste of what he did. The amazing thing about Tony Slydini was that almost everything he did revolved around the art of lapping. The phenomenal fact is that you never realized it when he performed. Why?
The answer is simple Tony had a larger than life personality, with a style and delivery that was so perfectly integrated that the performer and the performed became one. Very Zen. The very strength of Slydini’s work is what has made it so difficult to emulate. The large, expressive movements that seemed so natural when Tony made them only looked natural when he performed them. However there was plenty to learn from him about timing, misdirection and other skills, and the real lesson was about creating a performing persona that allowed you to conceal the hidden with the obvious.
Years later when I saw Dai Vernon perform I immediately spotted why his work had inspired and influenced so many magicians. With Dai the magic had a life of its own. The moves didn’t need to be covered since they were embedded in the fabric of the trick itself. I guess that is why he was the professor and the rest of us students.
To this day, I have never experienced such visceral magic as I watched that night sitting at a card table in Ken’s studio.