The Art of Magic

A few months ago, K purchased tickets for us to see a performance by world class magician Princess Tenko in Mito City. Having been an amateur magician for some time I enjoy watching it performed by people who really know what they are doing. My favorite illusionist was the late Doug Henning (he died from liver cancer in 2000 at age 52) who could do close up work flawlessly as well as large stage magic, always had a smile, and whose philosophy was this: "Wonder is a very subtle, precious emotion, often lost in the gross hustle and bustle of modern life. When we feel wonder, we are immediately reminded of the purity and innocence of our childhood. Then everything was magical and mysterious. Magic should help us relive that wonder." He said of performing, "The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.”

Princess Tenko has been performing by that stage name since the late 70's. During the course of a year, she works in Las Vegas, other parts of the US, Europe and Asia, putting on three hundred performances in 200 days, with only rare appearances in Japan. She was named Magician of the Year in 1990 by the U.S. Academy of Magical Arts and Sciences, has an anime cartoon series which was broadcast on US television starting in 1995 and Mattel toy company markets eight dolls based on her.

Early in her career she did some rather amazing and dangerous stunts which were broadcast on television and propelled her career into the spotlight. Her present illusions are not easy though, requiring skill, timing, and fitness to pull off. Just a year ago, she broke several ribs and cut her face close to her eyes during "The Spike Illusion in the Face of Death", when she was pinned inside a box by 10 metal swords.

On the morning of the performance at the Ibaraki Cultural Center in Mito City, K was attending an English language lecture about Tunisia presented by the Ibaraki International Association. At the same time, at the Ibaraki Museum of Modern Art next door, there was an exhibit of Japanese art of the Meiji Period. Happily, the International Center, Cultural Center, and art museum are all next to each other, so, while K went the to the lecture, I took in the art exhibit.

The Meiji Period is marked by the tremendous influence of Western culture and this is reflected in the arts. The exhibit has over eighty paintings and shows how various artists learned from classical western painters, impressionists, and modernists.

This 1905 painting by Ichiro Yuasa was one of my favorites.

As I had time, I also took in the regular exhibit which rotates from time to time and got to see some paintings from the permanent collection that I had not seen before - a Pissaro, one by Alfred Sisley, and this early Monet (1858). He was 17 years old when he painted it. That was also the year his mother died.

One of many things that I like about this museum - in addition to its brilliant architecture - is that they have free information cards available in each viewing area about many of the art works in the permanent collection, with a nice color image of the work on one side and a few paragraphs about it on the other (in Japanese only). They are also hole punched so one can save them in a binder.

After K's lecture, we met up and had a good lunch at the restaurant in the cultural center (I had a nice sashimi plate, and K had tempura) then got in line for the magic show. Perhaps I should add that in stark contrast to the adjacent art museum, with its meandering waters, lush landscaping, copper roofs, warm brick facade, and welcoming entrances, the cultural center suffers from rather abysmal post-modernist architecture. The kind of Soviet style massive and drab use of concrete which makes Japanese public schools look more like prisons than places of academic excellence. The plaza of it makes an excellent solar oven, as if they were more interested in cooking than in making a space for people to gather to enjoy the arts. Side by side, the two facilities are a stunning contrast. But I digress...

Princess Tenko still looks very young, even at 49. To some extent this is due to her rather wild costumes. She also has to stay fit to perform the illusions she does - partly due to the need to squeeze into tight places (she is quite short which helps, a fact she hides by wearing very high heels), and partly because when she isn't on stage she is literally running to the place she needs to be next.

And the performance? If I had to condense it into one word, it would be "LOUD"! I thought I would go deaf in that theater and wished I had brought ear protection. Seriously. The music and mike were cranked way up and for an hour and a half it blasted at us.

I was also disappointed with the way the show was presented. As soon as the doors opened, they did a fast a furious business to sell Princess Tenko goods to the crowd - T-shirts, dolls, dvds, magic tricks, etc. During the show, there was a constant fog and laser light thing going on to help distract the audience. A bit over done. They started the performance with a slide show showing her at home with her BIG cats - as in snow leopard, tiger, etc - and other wild animals. Then there were dances by her all male crew of assistants. At last an illusion was performed, then there was a ten minute narrated slide show of her early daring escapes - sorry, I didn't come to see what she did thirty yeas ago. Yawn.

During the performance, to provide a break, there was another narrated slide show showing her anime cartoon series, dolls, and other commercial items. Yawn.

She has another magician who, along with the assistants, does some dancing and performs several tricks in between her major illusions. That's fine, it takes time to set up the big illusions. Problem was, I was not impressed with this guy's performance. He did some things that were pretty good, but others were rather old hat and not terribly interesting. I don't know if the general audience noticed, but as I know a fair amount about how some of the standard illusions are accomplished, I saw him make a couple of goofs (which he quickly covered). Doug Henning's words - "The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.” - came to mind. Also, I couldn't help but think of Henning's four television specials on NBC which were aired live with only two commercial breaks. There were few interruptions to the magic - perhaps a song or comedy break by a guest - but most of the entire show was back to back illusions by Henning. Considering the cost of the tickets, I felt we were short changed.

The illusions performed by Princess Tenko were excellent and she did them very well. They were really quite impressive. Most were based on standard stage illusions that magicians have been doing for decades (or longer), which is not a criticism as most all magicians do variations on the same themes. It is exceptional to see a magician take such tricks and re-invent them; present them in a new way that leaves even those familiar with it scratching their heads. She does that. She also makes them beautiful and interesting.

While Princess Tenko's performance did not disappoint, the loud audio, "commercials", and less than top notch performances between her appearances on stage made for an overall let down for us. This feeling was reinforced when they spent the last ten minutes of the show having her walk through the theater touching hands with the audience. Yawn. Can we go now?

Still, it was a nice outing over all. K enjoyed learning about Tunisia and I am glad I got to see the art exhibit. Lunch was nice too. And we did get something out of the magic show, even if it was less fun than we had anticipated.

Next post - Pandabonium & K see the "Delft Style" exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum with a last minute surprise "switch-a-roo" of one of Vermeer's paintings!


nzm said...

I liked Doug Henning too - but whenever I saw him, he reminded me of Dylan the Rabbit from that iconic BBC program "The Magic Roundabout"!

Tunisia, ay? We had a Tunisian guy working with us in Dubai and Ramzi was a wonderful ambassador for his country. Sadly we never got to see it before we left the area, but maybe one day. Did you see that a Tunisian swimmer won Gold in the Mens' 1500m swimming event?

Pandabonium said...

NZM - Dylan the Rabbit? I can see why. Doug had a big toothy grin and wide open eyes. Perhaps that's why he fit in so well when he appeared on the Muppet show. :)

Tunisian Gold at the Olympics? I didn't catch that. Wonderful. Congrats to Oussama Mellouli. Nice to see people from "little" countries which have limited budgets excel like that.

Martin J Frid said...

I was a big fan of Doug Henning, we should try to find his stuff on Youtube! Muppet Show?

Glad to see magic is still alive and, and, and, ... the commercial business I also couldn't care less for.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Princess Tenko's most skilled magic trick was making people's money disappear.

Tunisia...I turned on the Olympics today just in time to see a Tunisian win a gold medal in a swimming event. I had never heard that national anthem before. I always like seeing someone who's not from one of the big powers win an event. The Tunisian swimmer sure looked proud...and not that arrogant sort of "Yeah, that's right, I'm bad" sort of pride we tend to see a lot on bigger-name Olympic athletes.

Speaking of Tunisians, whatever happened to Leilouta?

Olivia said...

I can't believe Princess Tenko is 49. But then fitness and makeup work wonders. As do genes.

The early Monet is outstanding, the light quality is so pure it's almost photographic.

Pandabonium said...

Martin - there are some clips of Doug on YouTube. The Muppet Show was a family TV entertainment program in the USA which starred the puppet characters created by Jim Henson for Sesame Street - Miss Piggy, Elmo, Kermit the Frog etc.

Moody - she has that one down pat. Poof!

Tunisia's gold was wonderful. When I hear that country's name, Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia" starts playing in my head.

As for Leilouta - somehow I never saw her blog before. Now it appears I'm too late.

Olivia - it's all done with mirrors.
An old photo also helps.

Glad you like the Monet. I can really get lost in his works. I was really happy to see them display some different works from the collection.

jam said...

I always like to see magic show. David Copperfield was supposed to perform in Malaysia last year but was cancelled at the very last minute, much to my dissapointment... BTW, I had transferred my blog to this new domain, http://lifeislikethat.com. Please add the new link to your blogroll if had added me previously. My new feed is http://feeds.feedburner.com/lifeislikethat/AHNd. Thanks.

ladybug said...

Love the old '70's look of Doug Henning...I remember watching him on the Muppets as a kid....

Love the Monet too...reminds me of the Meuse river in Northern France..and an adventure I had w/a friend visiting Verdun...I remember thinking "That's the Meuse? It looks like a creek!"...but of course when someone says "river" I always think of the Columbia...

I'm glad Princess Tenko continues to be a good magician...but it seems the commercialization is a bit over the top...kind of like shopping at Vegas!

Pandabonium said...

JAM - I'll make the change to your new URL soon. Thanks. Doug Henning stopped doing magic to focus on Transcendental Meditation. He sold much of his equipment to David Copperfield. David is great too.

LadyBug - That's an a-Meusing story about the river. Tenko reminded me of some of the real estate convention speakers I've heard - some good info, but always pushing their books, tapes, etc. Annoying. Especially since K paid a hefty price for the tickets to begin with.

Robin said...

Yes Yes The name of Princess Tenko does ring a bell somewhere.. Thought she should look older.. But then again, the power of the fountain of youth aka plastic surgery.

Glad you are having a wonderful time.

Happysurfer said...

Princess Tenko sure looks good for her age. It must be magic. :p