In the clear cube sat a man – famed street magician, endurance artist, illusionist, and escapologist David Blaine – in a suit at a café table, complete with a wine bottle, glass and fruit plate. On the back wall of the box a huge digital clock counted the seconds in bright red numbers, the only startling presence in an otherwise serene and surreal scene. The lights dimmed. Mr. Blaine’s pre-recorded voice filled the room, welcoming us all to the show and wishing us a Happy New Year. He told us that tonight, in honor of 2012, he would hold his breath for twelve full minutes.
Twelve minutes is a long time. Lives can begin, be altered forever, and end in twelve minutes. Twelve minutes is time enough to declare war and fall in love. Twelve minutes without air is almost unimaginable.
But watching David Blaine in a box of liquid for twelve minutes was a piece of cake for the oxygen rich audience that night. David ate a banana. He smoothed his napkin over his lap and opened the bottle of wine. The cork he held in his hand became a fish that darted through his fingers and explored his collar. He poured himself a glass and toasted the audience. (Here’s to you, David Blaine! Cheers!) He lit a cigar and blew a thick plume of gray smoke up through the gently undulating water.
Over a backdrop of ambient music and electronic heart beat blips, Mr. Blaine’s voice explained what happens to one’s body when deprived of air – I won’t go into detail, but it’s nothing good- and also what happens to one’s mind. And then he invited us to join him in a collective voluntary deprivation of air for the last three minutes.
I, of course, had a review to write, so I didn’t want to risk it.
At the end of the twelve minutes, Mr. Blaine emerged from the box, visibly tired and weakened. Before he got out of the glass cage and changed for the second half of the show, an interview led by the personable host, Rob McCollom, and a live-in-the-audience card trick exhibition, he asked if anyone had succeeded in holding his breath for three minutes. Nobody had, but one man, who said he had been practicing holding his breath for years, got close. Blaine invited him and his lady friend up onstage and asked if he had any questions. The man, Greg, said that he knew Blaine had a device or an aid that might help Greg to hold his breath for a little while longer. When Blaine pulled it out of his pocket and gave it to Greg to examine, Greg turned to Danielle, his lady, and got on one knee. He opened the box and pulled out a ring. An audible gasp and murmurs of delight rippled through the audience.
All that in the first fifteen minutes!
The “who”, “what”, “where”, and “when” of a David Blaine show are easy; not so with the “why” or “how.” Why Blaine would push himself to the edges of endurance is debatable. The “how” is equally mystifying; Blaine is a master of illusion, of sleight of hand and making the utterly impossible seem natural, right and simple. He says that the magic lies in people’s reactions, and that magic happens in the connections. Watching the look of amazement that passed between an 80-year-old man and his wide-eyed, gap-toothed granddaughter, or marveling at the roses that bloomed in a young woman’s cheeks at the moment of her magical proposal, or the ooh’s and ahh’s of an appreciative, awed audience, this reporter has to wonder if maybe the why and how just aren’t all that important.