Chair Balance

There is one routine in David's repertoire that he has always been reluctant to perform, the Chair Suspension, which he calls the Chair Balance. But David realised long ago that if you perform only tricks that you like, you are entertaining no one but yourself. He first tried the Chair Balance out in the 1960's, has carefully crafted it over the years and it remains a feature of his act. Audiences remember the effect long after the details of far cleverer presentations have been lost in the haze of time. They exaggerate it too, often recalling as the day, "You levitated my wife," rather than the suspension effect it really is.

It's one of those effects that gives David a problem in that he likes to present his magic as if it is within the realm of human possibilities. He never says he can read thoughts or make predictions, claiming only that using a variety of means he can achieve results that are equally stunning. But how does the man of mystery explain the Chair Balance*. Surely it's a supernatural rather than superhuman effect?

After a show, when people ask how he accomplished the feat, he gives a really neat demonstration that makes it all sound so plausible. He extends the forefingers of both hands and holds them out so that they are parallel and separated by about five or six inches. He asks someone to pick up a tablespoon and lay it across his fingers. The spoon represents the volunteer, the fingers the chairs. "It's all a matter of balance," says David. "The head and

shoulders are heavier than the legs."

David moves one of his hands away, leaving the spoon balanced on the other, the neck resting on the extended forefinger. The heavier bowl compensates for the length of the handle. It looks uncanny and it makes the point perfectly. This visual demonstration seems to provide a reasonable explanation of the phenomenon, at least adequate enough to stop further questioning along these lines.

As usual it is the presentation that makes David's routine memorable but he has also adapted the props to make the routine his own. The board supplied with the trick always looked like a magical prop. David has replaced it with a dark brown shiny laminated board that resembles the top of an upright piano (which is how David will describe it to his audience). Usually only one of the chairs supplied with the effect is gimmicked which meant that the back of the chairs don't match. In David's presentation he uses two gimmicked chairs so that both chairs look absolutely identical. At the beginning of the routine the board is either resting against the side of the stage or, if a piano is available, up against the side of the piano. The chairs are folded and are leaning against the wall, either side of the stage or cabaret floor, ready to be brought on.

The presentation looks like a demonstration of the powers of suggestibility or hypnosis. First he asks for the assistance of two gentlemen and a lady from the audience. Ideally the lady should be attractive, with long hair. The long hair adds to the aesthetic look of the illusion when it is hanging down over the edge of the board, the woman precariously balanced. When David sees such a lady he gives her a nice smile and invites her to join him on stage. If she says no, he will never force the issue but always move on and quickly find someone else. He has worked the illusion with all shapes and sizes of volunteers.

He asks one of the men to bring over one of the chairs. The man opens it up and sets it down. The fact that the volunteer handles the chair suggests it is free of trickery. The casual way in which David allows the spectators to handle the props might make some magicians

nervous but the reality is that none of the volunteers have ever discovered the secrets to the props.

David waves a hand in the direction of the chair and the lady takes this as an instruction to sit down. Just as she is about to sit, David says, "No, it's not to sit on. It's not that simple. I wouldn't ask you to leave a comfortable chair and get you to sit on a hard wooden chair like this. No, this is a little more complicated." The little touches of humour introduced into the first part of the routine serve to highlight the drama of the suspension effect which follows.

"We have an upright piano at the back, would you bring the lid please?" says David to one of the men. There may or may not be a piano but the very mention of it provides an explanation for the board that is being used. People will remember that he balanced someone across two chairs on the lid of a piano. The effect has an impromptu feel to it. The gimmicked nature of the props will be totally overlooked.

David turns the chair sideways to the audience. He asks the man to place the board across the top of the chair and "find the point of balance." The volunteers often struggle to find the centre. David used to have the centre marked so that he could find it quickly but these days he can find it automatically without looking. All this time the volunteers are handling the gimmicked props and yet, as far as the audience is concerned, there is clearly nothing to hide.

David helps the volunteer find the balance point and then sets the board rocking across the back of the chair. The rocking is another touch David has added. The board see-saws back and forth eerily. It seems to go on for a long time and as it rocks the drummer beats out a kind of tick-tock, tick-tock to accentuate the movement. There is no extra gimmickry to make the board rock like this. The fact that it is weighted at one end and moving to and fro over the gimmicked chair back gives it all the momentum it needs. It's a perfectly natural phenomenon but most impressive.

As the board rocks David turns to the lady and says, "I would like you to lie across the board and seesaw like that." She stares back in disbelief. "Do you think you could do that? No. I don't think so either; it's a little dangerous. But we do have another chair."

The other man is asked to fetch the second chair. He opens it out and David sets it so that it faces the first, seat to seat, as required for the illusion. The lady stands by one of the men as David places the board across the backs of both chairs. He sets it for the trick, making sure it is secure.

A man stands behind each chair and the lady is asked to sit on the board so that she faces the audience. David helps position her at an angle so that she will find it easy to lie down on the board.

David tells the lady, "In a moment I would like you to lean back and lie on the board." If the lady is wearing a skirt, he smiles and turns to one side of the audience, saying, "And all the gentlemen on that side will close their eyes for a moment."

"Don't worry about a thing," he assures her. If the lady has glasses he takes them from her at this point and will return them later. He asks her to lie down, positioning her so that her head is overhanging the board. He asks the man at that end to cup his hands beneath her head and hold it there. "Look straight up at the ceiling," David tells her, "Not up his nose."

The other man naturally assumes he has to grab the lady's feet but David tells him not to and asks him to hold the lower end of the board instead with both hands. The lady's hands are folded across her chest. The music changes to something more sombre. The lights dim. The mood is mysterious.

David addresses the lady by name, "Mary I want you to take a deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth." She breathes in and out slowly. "Again, this time not so deeply," he says, "Again—and this time close your eyes."

David snafps his fingers, touches the lady on the bridge of the nose and then asks her to lower her head. The man holding her head gently releases it until it hangs unsupported off the end of the board, her hair cascading down. The man steps back.

"Just stay relaxed, not a care in the world, nothing to worry about." David is talking and reassuring her all the time. He asks the man still holding the board to lift the board slightly and see if he can feel the weight of her legs. He can. David slowly moves the chair away from under the board and puts it to one side, out of the man's reach. The music stops and gives way to a gentle timpani roll. Things are looking very precarious. The man holding the board knows he must not let go.

Still talking to the lady David says, "I'm going to count from one to five. On the count of five all the weight will leave your legs and go into the upper part of your body, head and shoulders. Suddenly you will feel no weight in your legs at all. This is quite a pleasant sensation so please don't worry about it."

"Here we go. One, two, three, four, five! Mary you have no weight in your legs."

He pauses for a few moments to allow the suggestion to sink in then he turns to the man holding the board and asks him to, "Put the board back on the chair." Now the chair is not within reach and the man and audience assume that David is giving some kind of hypnotic suggestion instructing the man to put the board down on a chair he cannot see. "Put the board down," says David. Nervously, the man lowers the board and then lets go, first with one hand and then the other. The timpani roll stops. There is silence and to everyone's amazement the lady remains perfectly balanced. The man steps back astonished because right up until letting go of the board he could feel the lady's weight.

David says nothing, letting the audience appreciate the effect. Occasionally one or two people try to break the silence and applaud. If they do David doesn't look at them, he just raises a hand and says, "No applause," thereby heightening the tension.

Then, in a soft voice, he says to the audience, "It must be nice to relax like that in the middle of the evening." Bear in mind that until this point the evening may well have been quite raucous. People might have been dancing, music playing and lots of eating and drinking going on. Now there is deathly quiet. The lady on the board will look deeply asleep. Her imagination will have taken over and made her very relaxed. Sometimes friends will come up to take photographs, preserving the moment of magic.

Nothing seems to happen for a long time but it is really only a matter of seconds. Then David touches the lady on the bridge of her nose and says, "Mary open your eyes." She does. "Are you alright?" She is. "Keep your eyes open I want to show you something. You know you are lying on a board between two chairs?" She says she does. David walks over to the empty chair, picks it up, high enough for Mary to see it, and says, "Well, this is the other chair you're lying on." The chair is gimmicked and very heavy so this actually takes quite a lot of strength.

For the audience this is a very funny moment. Until now they hadn't realised that Mary is the only one who doesn't know what has happened. Before the lady has a chance to panic, David quickly tells her to close her eyes again and not to worry. "Everything will be alright."

In a whisper that David intends the audience to hear he says to the man by Mary's head, "Don't touch her whatever you do." He replaces the chair under the lower end of the board and asks the man there to hold it firmly between his hands.

Then to Mary he says, "I am going to count backwards from five to one and with every number I count all the weight will go back into your legs. On the count of one I want you to open your eyes, sit up and swing your legs down my side. You will feel more refreshed and more relaxed than you have for a very long time."

The count is made, the lady opens her eyes and sits up on the board. David makes sure that both men hold the board firmly as she recovers. If she's feeling dazed, and it is a genuinely relaxing experience, he tells her to shake her head to clear it. "Are you all right?" he asks. She says she is. "Are you sure?" Again she says yes. "Quite sure," says David checking for the third time. "Well give her a big hand for coming up." The lights come back, the music plays and the audience applauds.

The men start walking back to their seats but David calls them back, "Wait a minute, I haven't finished with you yet. You put the chairs away, you put the board away." The applause continues as they do this and then they follow the lady back to their seats.

On television David has performed a version of the Chair Balance that does not use a board of any kind. The volunteer, a man, is suspended across two chairs. One is removed in the traditional fashion leaving the man lying in space, his neck across the back of only one chair. The man is, of course, part of the act and a special harness worn under his clothing makes the effect possible. As baffling as this effect is, it is with the traditional board and two chairs that David has had the most success, having performed it under virtually all conditions and in many different venues around the world.

One of those occasions is particularly memorable both for David and the lady volunteer.

A different version of the Chair Balance without the board, from a 1966 appearance on the television series Hippodrome.

He was working at the Birmingham Exhibition Centre doing seven shows a day to attract and hold a crowd for a fashion house. The performance took place on the catwalk and the plan was that after David had entertained a fashion show would begin.

It was gruelling work. Seven shows a day, working the same routines again and again. Several days into the booking David was on automatic pilot, tricks, routines and patter began to blur. He was performing the Chair Balance and was about to finish the routine. The chair had been replaced and the attractive young lady on the board was about to be released from her trance-like state. "I'm going to count backwards from five to one," said David. "And on the count of one I want you to take a nice deep breath, open your legs and swing your eyes down my side!"

You can bet she got off the board pretty smartly after that.

Power Of Hypnosis

Power Of Hypnosis

Hypnosis is something most people see as being some kind of new age mumbo jumbo, but it's actually been scientifically to be effective in many people. Learn more within this guide.

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