Magicians used to wear a black suit and a tall black hat, wave a black stick with white tips and utter the spell “Abracadabra”. Well, that style is so passé. Look at young illusionist Demian Aditya. With his modern look, he is breathing fresh air into the local entertainment industry.
The lights went out and everybody in the room stared at the stage where Demian was performing a game similar to Russian roulette, but he used a knife rather than a gun.
In the show, Demian revealed several erect brown paper bags and announced that a big sharp knife was hidden in one of the bags. Then he invited several volunteers to the stage. They were asked to place one hand on top of a paper bag and then one by one — hit down on the bag as has hard as they could.
With only two paper bags remaining, the audience watched and waited in horrified silence for the final blow. Now, the knife was in one of the two remaining paper bags, but which one?
The only volunteer left on the stage was a woman, who looked on nervously as Demian took her left hand and pushed it down on one of the bags — it was empty.
“You are right-handed, right? So, you will still be able to write should something happen to your left hand,” Demian said, jokingly.
But it was not funny for the woman. Everybody in the audience was holding their breath when Demian, brought the lady’s hand down hard on the final bag. The knife wasn’t there. The lady was unharmed.
The audience clapped their hands, stunned by his performance. It was just a short show performed by the illusionist during a recent book launch of local businessman Arifin Panigoro.
Clad in a fitted black shirt and black pants and with spiked short hair, Demian does not fit the typical magician bill.
He looked more like a member of a rock band. The 30-year-old has his own show called Gara-gara Magic (Because of Magic) on a local TV station, while at the same time is busy running his magic academy.
It is a special “school” for people (of a minimum age of 10) who have interest in magic and illusions. It was founded in 2009 in three major cities in Indonesia: Jakarta, Surabaya and Yogyakarta.
Magic has fascinated Demian since he was a young boy.
He was astonished at how magicians performed and was driven to learn more about the art when he was in the last grade of elementary school.
"I started learning common techniques with small objects like cards and coins. I learned those things by myself,” he said.
He became more serious about learning magic in the ninth grade.
“I love magic. I experience a feeling of self-satisfaction every time I perform in front of people and can make them laugh,” said Demian.
“I like it when people can forget all of their stress and problems when they watch my show. And every time I perform, I feel like this is my way of life.”
But it was a long and winding road to fulfilling his dream of becoming a magician, since his parents never agreed with the career path.
“Years ago, there was no parent who would ever let their child become a magician,” he admitted.
“My parents did not forbid me from performing magic, they just never supported me because they thought that I would never make a living through this profession.”
But he kept on teaching himself basic magic tricks and never lost belief in his dream. When he was in the third year of junior high school, he started to buy magic tools and devices.
Books and the Internet were his teachers in learning about magic. “It’s not easy to get enough knowledge about magic and illusions. I did not even know where to learn. Then I decided to start going from one community to another to find more about magic.”
He said cyberspace was one of the best places to learn about magic, adding that he did not get a chance to learn about magic and illusions overseas because he did not have enough money.
“I just went to a nearby Internet café, which cost me about Rp 10,000 [US$1] per hour, and logged on to some websites to communicate with other young magicians around the world.”
It was in 2002 that he first mustered the courage to announce himself as a professional illusionist and started performing in public.
Unlike traditional magicians who wear black hats and black capes, Demian performs as himself, choosing modern attire to cut a young stylish look that catches the attention of his audience.
Demian calls himself an illusionist — and is certainly one of the youngest illusionist or mentalist in town.
Illusionist? Mentalist? Well, what’s the difference, anyway?
“It’s like when we talk about specialized doctors. There are pediatricians, cardiologists, ophthalmologists,” he explains.
“If I, for instance, was an ophthalmologist and a patient with skin problems came to me, I would suggest that he or she go to a dermatologist even if I knew about their problem — because it’s not my specialization.”
He said illusionists were more into tricks that deceived the eyes, and that mentalists generally performed mind-reading tricks.
“If you ask me whether I can be a mentalist, yes, but I focus more on illusions,” he said.
For inspiration, he studies popular sources on magic such as the Harry Potter movies.
However, he said there were times he suffered from magician’s block – and struggled to come up with new material.
“When that happens, I just enjoy it because it is normal. We can’t be productive all the time,” he said.
He recounted one tale of when he was forced to cancel a show.
“It happened about four or five years ago. I fell from the stage during a rehearsal. I was injured and had about 38 stitches all over my body. I put it down as a failure because at the end of the day, I did not perform,” Demian said, adding that he had learned a lot from the incident.
“But the best thing about illusions is that if you miss a trick, the audience will never know. It’s different if you are a singer. If you forget the lyrics, your fans will know your mistake right away.”
To avoid mistakes, Demian said, he practiced his arts at least once a week and took regular exercise to keep fit.
He even has a secret room at home for practicing his magic. Nobody is allowed to enter the room.
Does that include his wife, television personality Yulia Rahman? “She has entered the room before, but actually she is not allowed to,” he said, giggling.
After years of struggle to gain recognition, Demian has finally proved to his parents that he can make a living being an illusionist.
However, he said, many people still did not have respect for his profession.
“People still don’t view this profession positively. You know, what we do is the same as what Butet Kertarajasa does. We are also entertainers. Magic is just like music. It’s an art,” he said.
“But the public still see us as a bunch of people who play tricks. That’s a pity.”
He added that he wanted to let Indonesians know that magic was not a way to deceive people, but rather a way to entertain them.
And through his Demian Magic Academy, he hopes to find and inspire other budding Demians out there.
He suggested young illusionists think outside of the box in coming up with new acts and becoming good performers.
“Don’t be easily satisfied about what you have accomplished. Sometimes you may think that you know a lot, but the fact is you don’t.”
“I used to feel that I was a very good illusionist, but later I realized that I still needed to learn more. As an illusionist, you need to learn about other things like choreography, theatrics and public speaking,” he explained.
Although the future of magic is anyone’s guess, Demian expressed his gratitude toward the Indonesian people who began to appreciate and accept the world of magic, as nowadays there were more and more magic shows and young and talented magicians in the country than ever before.
“I love magic. I experience a feeling of self-satisfaction every time I perform in front of people and can make them laugh,”
Although he has already fulfilled his childhood dream, Demian still has many dreams that he wants to realize.
“Hope keeps a man alive. My goals as an illusionist are to have my own big solo show and to go international.”
Another dream of his is to “move” the National Monument (Monas), which is now located in Central Jakarta, to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten.
“To do that, I would need huge support from the government because it’s one of the country’s landmarks,” he added.
Besides that, deep down in his heart, he said, he hoped that someday one of his children would follow his path as an illusionist.
From his marriage with Yulia, he has a step daughter Kayla Aura Fabian, 6, and a six-month-old boy, Kiandra Alsdya Arka.
“Of course, I want my children to be the next Demian, continuing the things that I’ve done. I, however, don’t want to push them to be an illusionist. They still can be whoever they want to be,” he ensured.
For now though, Demian couldn’t be happier because his daughter has already shown interest in magic and has even asked him to teach her privately. “She has mastered some magic tricks and she is good enough,” he said, proudly.
While he used to have no support from his parents, now Demian has the full backing of his wife. “She never complains. She just reminds me to be careful whenever I plan to do a dangerous stunt.”
During his days off, Demian completely locks away his skills in the magic box, and spends time with his family.
“For me, my family is my heartbeat. They are the ones who make my life more lively. After working all day, no matter how tired I am, I always try to cuddle my baby boy,” he said.
When he is not working, Demian stays at home with his wife and kids, enjoying home-made food, especially his favorite dish nasi goreng (fried rice).
“Actually I like my mother’s nasi goreng. I always ask her to make it for me every time I visit her. But fortunately, my wife now can cook the same nasi goreng as my mother’s,” said Demian, throwing a wink at his wife sitting beside him.