The Table Lvitation
Some routines \rk so remarkable they can change a man's mind. That is the case with David's Table Levitation and the man in question was Dr Christopher Evans. Evans worked for the National Physical Laboratory in England and in December 1968 was appearing as a guest on Irish comedian Dave Allen's television chat show. So too was David Berglas.
In the hospitality room, before the show, Evans said that he'd heard David was going to make a table levitate. Evans was intrigued because many years ago, when he was a student, a man had visited his university and performed all kinds of incredible paranormal feats, finishing with the levitation of a heavy table. He explained that he had been very sceptical before the demonstration began but that lecture, and especially the table, made him change his mind. There were clearly some strange powers at work that he did not understand.
David was intrigued. Did the man claim to be psychic? What else did he do? How exactly did the table levitate? Evans related all the details he could remember and the more he talked the more David was convinced that he knew who the performer was. It was himself.
Evans could hardly believe he was talking to the same man, the man who had wiped away his scepticism and turned him into a believer. David didn't want Evans going away with the wrong impression so assured him that he was strictly an entertainer and suggested that perhaps he shouldn't believe everything he saw. The two became good friends and David taught Evans a few simple magical deceptions so that he might have a better grasp of the methods that make "psychic" miracles possible. In later years, Evans became one of Britain's leading sceptics and eventually David invited him to become Chairman of the UK arm of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal or CSICOP as it is usually known.
David has performed the Table Levitation for over forty years. He's used it in clubs, theatres, on television and even for publicity stunts. In 1960, when working The Equator Club in Nairobi, he promised the press that they would see something very special outside their offices at noon the following day. They turned up with their cameras expecting to see David perform some magic before an audience of two dozen people. In fact nearly a thousand people watched him make a table levitate and dance along the streets. What made the stunt
even more newsworthy was that David had chosen two Africans, two Asians and two Europeans from the crowd to act as his volunteers. In an age of apartheid, photographs of their hands coming together on the table had an extra resonance.
Magicians have always been baffled as to the specifics of David's method. His presentation has been photographed and filmed from all angles yet the mechanism remains perfectly hidden. I le has always said he would one day pass the precise details on to another performer if someone suitable came along. In 1993 he got a call from illusionist David Copperfield asking whether he would be prepared to teach him the Table Levitation. Later he was flown to Germany, where Copperfield was touring, to discuss the matter further. A deal was struck, the method revealed and the effect became part of David Copperfield's new show.
While we can't disclose the mechanics of this particular deception we can reveal the details of the superbly convincing presentation that David Berglas has used during his career. It has been built up over countless performances to convince even the most sceptical member of the audience that no possible method exists that can explain the mystery of the levitating table.
It begins with the selection of the volunteers. Any simple book on magic would have revealed that all that was necessary to raise a small table from the ground are two secret assistants with rulers strapped to their wrists. David's selection procedure quickly dispels that idea.
David asks for volunteers from the audience, first some men, as many as possible. He actually needs either sixteen or thirty-two of them and as soon as that many are on stage the rest go back to their seats. The volunteers stand in line whilst a small ball is thrown out into the audience to be caught by the nearest female.
She turns her back to the men and David walks along the row and gives each of them
Tel Aviv in 1963: the lady runs from the table.
Tel Aviv in 1963: the lady runs from the table.
a number from l to 32. He might shuffle some of the men around to ensure that the lady has absolutely no clue as to which man stands at which number.
Then David asks her to call, "Odd or even." She chooses and half the men are eliminated and go back to their seats. She chooses a second and a third time until only four men are left on stage and the audience is in no doubt that they were freely chosen.
David calls for female volunteers and the procedure is repeated, this time a man from the audience calling odd or even in order to whittle the number down to four. This method was never used in his television shows, it would have been too time consuming, but it was ideal for theatres and cruises where it resembled a game and where time was not a premium.
"Ladies and gentleman, as you saw we had lots of people up here and we now have four ladies and four gentlemen chosen in the fairest possible way. It could have been any one of you." He asks the male volunteers to pick up a large circular table (about 4 feet in diameter) that is standing at the side of the stage and bring it to the centre. The reason he asks all four of the men to fetch the table is to make it seem even heavier than it is.
"Will you please examine it?" They do. prodding it, rapping it and looking under it. David looks at the audience then looks at his curious volunteers. "Excuse me...what are you actually looking for?" The audience laughs, the volunteers have no idea what they're looking for.
David arranges the volunteers around the table. He starts with the four men pairing them so that those of a similar height arc standing opposite each other. Then he positions the women around the table so that the sexes alternate. He seems to be taking great care over who stands where. It's a touch that convinces the audience that something unusual will happen though as yet they have no idea what.
Everything is set. I le addresses the audience, "Ladies and gentlemen I'm going to try and recreate something that you will have heard is often attempted at seances. You may have heard about it but you will not have seen it."
"During the next few minutes I will be busy talking to my volunteers so you will have to excuse me turning my back and ignoring you. 1 hope you understand."
David is building up the audience's expectations. This is something special. He'll have to concentrate and will even have to break some basic rules of stagecraft to do it. He's not going to entertain us but we'll be allowed to watch whatever happens on stage.
He works with a handheld mike for the rest of the presentation, talking direct to his volunteers but allowing the audience to hear it too. First he asks the volunteers to introduce each other. They shake hands, smile and say their hellos. Then he asks them to squat. Not kneel down, but squat around the table. If anyone has any knee problems or injuries now is the time to mention it and another volunteer can be brought up to take their place.
I le walks around the group of volunteers as he quietly talks. "In a moment I'm going to ask you to put your hands on the table." He takes a piece of chalk from his pocket, draws a circle with a cross inside it in the centre of the table. "This has no significance. It's just something to concentrate on."
The stage lights dim as a soft pink light illuminates the table and the eight volunteers. A follow spot picks David out of the darkness and tracks him as he moves around the stage. "I'd like you to put your hands lightly on the table. Further in, just the fingertips." They are still squatting with their fingertips touching the tabletop. "Not too close to each other." He looks at one man and the woman next to him mischievously, "You can hold her hand later!" A few quips lighten the tone.
"Look at the cross inside the circle. Take a deep breath; in through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth." In unison the volunteers begin their meditative breathing.
"In a few moments I will ask you to stand up. And when you do I want you to imagine that your fingertips are stuck to the table and the table will actually come up with you."
"Please don't lean down on the table. And don't lift your hands too quickly. Fingertip control. Touching the table at all times."
The audience can see David watching his volunteers, gauging the pace of their breathing. Waiting for them to be ready. Then softly he says, "Will you all stand up now?"
But something's wrong. As soon as they start to stand he says, "No, no you got up too quickly." He points to one who stood up earlier than the rest. "You must all try to get up together. Let's try it again."
Once more they squat around the table, fingertips resting on its surface. They breathe in and out slowly and on David's command they stand up. It's better this time but whatever was supposed to happen doesn't.
"Never mind. Just relax. Will you all just move away from the table? Stretch your legs make yourself comfortable. Shake your hands." The volunteers loosen themselves up like athletes preparing for a sprint. David is talking to them calmly, warming them up for the next attempt.
Once again it's fingertips to the table and more controlled breathing. In and out, in and out. "Keep your eyes on the cross inside the circle. Stand up," says David and this time, as they stand, and to their amazement, the table comes with them. But only for a moment. Seconds later it crashes to the stage. Not to worry, they'll try again. But first David sends one man back to his scat, apparently dissatisfied with his efforts, and another volunteer is brought up in his place. Now it's all hands to the table once again. David wanders around the volunteers, checking that their hands are touching the table correctly. They concentrate and he gives the command again. The table slowly rises. It's clinging eerily to their fingertips as it hovers above the stage floor. The audience starts to applaud but David stretches out a hand as a warning to stop, "No applause please." He keeps his attention focussed on the volunteers. "You're doing really well. Wonderful. Don't lose concentration. Keep looking at the cross inside the circle."
"Now you know that your fingertips aren't really stuck to the table. Will you wiggle your fingers please." David holds out his hands to demonstrate and the volunteers follow his lead, wiggling their fingers on the table's surface. The table continues to hover, suspended by some invisible force.
Now for something more advanced. "Lift your left hands." Tentatively each volunteer raises his or her left hand from the table. "Put them back!" All hands immediately drop to the table. Someone gives a nervous giggle.
"Now lift your right hands." They do and briefly pause until David tells them to lower their hands again. Now for a unique convincing touch as David says, "Be very careful now. Lift both hands!" The volunteers have hardlv lifted their hands from the table when it suddenlv
drops. Quickly he calls out, "Put them back!"
They do and the table is caught at their fingertips milli-seconds before it touches the floor. "I think you overdid the wiggling bit." he says, smiling. By this time ail suspicions as to method have been quashed. Eight freely chosen volunteers are holding a table suspended at their fingertips with no apparent means of support. It's pure entertainment from here on.
David walks away to the side of the stage. "This table is very strongly attracted to me," he says. He waves his hands towards it in a magical gesture. "Table come over here." Sure enough the table moves towards him, floating in the air and dragging the volunteers with it.
David runs to the other side of the stage. "Table come here." Once more the table moves toward him, the volunteers following it. He guides it back to its starting position where it remains suspended.
"You won't believe it but this table loves music. Maestro, a little table music please." A waltz is played, a slow waltz. At first nothing happens then the table begins to swing to and fro in time with the music. "Keep looking at the centre of the cross," says David. "You'll feel the music swaying the table. Listen to the beautiful music." A tiny movement becomes a larger one and the tempo gets a little faster. The table is dancing. The more rhythmic of the volunteers sway their own bodies in time with the tune, mirroring the movement of the table. It can be very funny.
"Stop now and start spinning." David touches a couple of the volunteers so that they know which way to turn. The table rotates and the volunteers follow it around. "Faster, faster,'" he shouts. Soon the volunteers are running around the table, trying to keep up. David is running with them too.
Suddenly he calls out, " Table drop!" The music stops, the table crashes to the floor and the volunteers jump aside. It's a dramatic finish. The audience wants to applaud but David, apparently exhausted, wanders offstage leaving them to contemplate the table and eight breathless volunteers.
After a long pause he returns and, finally, the audience gets to show their appreciation. It's a technique he learned from a singer called Johnny Ray who would be almost in tears at the end of an emotional song and stagger off the stage clutching the curtains. Then he'd return and the audience would applaud like crazy.
David saw Fogel use the same technique. Excited and full of emotion he tried to write a thought of word on a slate, hardly able to hold the chalk steady. The chalk would snap (even-night without fail) in his desperation to finish. He would ask for the word to be called out then he'd turn the board around to show that he was right. Exhilarated he tossed the board high into the air, and stumble offstage drained of his psychic energies. Then he'd stumble back to deafening applause. Timing that return is something David learned from experience. Too long and it looks awkward. Too short and he might trample on the applause that has already-started. Timed correctly it exploits the audience's pent up desire to show their appreciation, like winding up a spring and releasing it before it breaks.
One final touch from David as the audience continues applauding. He picks the table up, turns it on its side and spins it like a giant coin. It continues to spin and the audience continues to applaud. It seems to take forever, spinning much longer than expected. If this is a television show the director has been briefed to position his camera towards David so that it can shoot through the upturned legs of the spinning table until it comes to rest. As the table settles, David will be standing just behind it, arms outstretched, taking the applause. It's a visually striking shot.
In cabaret or on a cruise David will finish by asking each of the volunteers how they felt. "It was incredible." "Fantastic." "Spooky." If someone says something complimentary he will hold the microphone out to them and ask them to repeat it. Then he asks them to say it again, only louder. It's a touch of humour which helps show that this is still entertainment and that David doesn't take either himself or the performance too seriously.
The finale: David and the spinning table, on the Dutch television series Ster Allures, 1982.
He asks the volunteers whether they are going to try this when they get home and then leaves them with one final question. "Do you think it will work?" There's a pause, perhaps a shaking of a head. "Neither do I." says David with a smile.
With the Table Levitation David has taken an overlooked effect and worked it until it has become a showstopper. Every possible avenue of explanation has been eliminated for the audience. Every ounce of showmanship and trick of stagecraft is used to deliver an exciting and baffling illusion.
He has discovered that a lot of suspicion is directed at the table and has tried to minimise this in his performance. The final spin is not only a magnificent theatrical gesture but its casual manner indicates that the table is just a table and nothing more.
In his early days David did try the routine with borrowed tables at elegant hotels like the Dorchester and Savoy but this approach had its problems. For a start the tables were laden with crockery, cutlery, ice buckets, glasses, menus, bread rolls and any number of other dinner accoutrements. Clearing them was a major task and finding somewhere else to put the stuff was yet another. Then when he'd got the tabic on stage he would remove the tablecloth to discover a battered, scarred, cigarette-burned hunk of wood underneath. It hardly-complemented the glittering surroundings and banqueting managers would be horrified to have their naked tables exposed to even a cursory glance from their diners.
He quickly realised that this was a bad mistake and going too far to prove a point. In any event, at some venues it was impossible to borrow a table. The tables on board ship are often screwed to the floor. He settled the matter once and for all by hav ing his own table made. It has a circular wood grain laminated top that hinges in the centre. The legs unscrew and everything can be carried in a specially made canvas bag. He has found that the choreography of the routine is the best way to address any doubts the audience may have as to the table's authenticity. And, no matter what he does, there will always be those who have bizarre ideas as to how the trick is done. He has had some people come up to him after a show and tell him that they could see the wires holding the table up. There's no point in arguing so David thanks them and says that next time he'll have a word with the lighting people.
When working the Ambassador Club in Birmingham David heard one wealthy customer say that the stunt couldn't possibly be done with one of his own tables. The man was something of a know-all and a braggart, a regular at the club who was liked more for his money than his abrasive personality. He had intended his remarks to be heard by everyone within earshot and he bet Dav id £1,000 that he couldn't perform the effect with his dining table. Knowing the man's reputation, David found it a challenge he couldn't turn down.
Some weeks later David found himself standing in the man's dining room telling a group of the man's friends to breathe in through the nose and out though the mouth as they squatted around a heavy oak dining table. As they concentrated the table began to rise from the floor and the braggart's face went pale. It didn't dance around the room but it did enough to convince the man that it was worth every note of his £1,000. He became David's best publicist after telling everyone who would listen about the miracle with the table. Some knew more about the incident than he did; I'm referring to the four men around the table that helped raise it with their knees. When David had suggested to them there might be a way of putting an end to their friend's loud talk they eagerly jumped at the idea. The man was a wealthy bookmaker, the money was to go to charity and their friend had long deserved a piece of humble pie. Once again the table proved its ability to change men's minds.
Accidents have also made their contribution to this routine. At one early television performance a woman volunteer screamed as the table rose from the floor and literally ran away. David brought her back and asked her what happened. "The table moved," she said. "Well that's what supposed to happen," he replied. He put his arm around her reassuringly and persuaded her to stay for the rest of the performance.
The screaming woman was a great talking point and David took steps to ensure it stayed in the act. He used the strategy for years. There's a picture of David performing the routine on a street in Israel late at night. The girl screamed on cue and was photographed running away barefoot from the table. It made for great publicity, telling a story the newsmen wanted to hear.
One piece that David used on the Dave Allen show has also been long forgotten and vet makes a tremendous television moment. After the table stunt Allen asked whether David j could do the effect with any table. David said he could. "Even a heavy table or a piano?" said Allen.
"How much do you weigh?" asked David. Allen was quite heavy at that time and weighed around fifteen stone. "Tell you what," said David, "get on the table and we'll try it again with you on it."
Allen, the comedian, sat somewhat nervously on the table. "No, lie down," said David. Allen did. The volunteers were called back, stood around the table and touched their fingertips to the wood.
"Now you remember we had to draw a circle with a cross inside it," said David. Allen had barely replied when David took out a piece of chalk and to much laughter from the audience drew a circled cross on his waistcoat. "Concentrate on that," said David. Even Allen's fifteen stone couldn't stop the table levitating and neither did it stop it turning. As it rotated an overhead camera captured the spread-eagled comedian's yells and screams. It was a great piece of television magic and an idea that deserves to be remembered and maybe one day resurrected.
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