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September 16, 2009

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Magical shock and awe

FACED with a tragedy that threatened to destroy his life, Australian Vasilios Elovalis found an unlikely calling that has taken him around the world where he spreads a little magic in the lives of everyone he meets.

Elovalis, or as he is known in Shanghai as Mario the Almost Magnificent or Ma Ma Hu Hu Mario is a magician with an array of tricks up his sleeve that have befuddled, perplexed and awed even a few NASA scientists.

"I am not a slick magician, I don't do fancy shuffles, I am a bit slumpy bumpy but I recover with magic," he says when describing his act.

Mario, as he likes to be called, spends six months a year in his hometown of Perth in Western Australia, and for the last eight years he has called Shanghai home for the remainder of the year.

He performs what he describes as "close-up" magic, where he walks around the room, sidling up to tables or groups to weave his spells.

Unlike a performance on stage, in which the audience can attribute illusion to tricks of lighting or props, a close-up magical performance can leave audiences wide-eyed with wonder.

"I am not after 'Oh, you are good,' or 'That is really clever'," he says. "I feel if I get that reaction I have failed in a way. I want them to say 'That's impossible, it's magic,' and that's a whole different energy."

From the outback of Australia to the seedy nightclubs of Bangkok, Mario has been leaving people scratching their heads in wonder during his 15-year career.

But this former marketing and advertising executive was taken to the brink of despair, after losing his two-and-a-half-year-old son in a tragic accident.

The toddler managed to get out of the backyard where he was playing and was hit by a car.

"When something like that happens, it makes you think about the big questions in life," he says. "I went to Sydney where I had the nervous breakdown."

After hitting rock bottom, Mario looked for things to help him, trying a range of workshops including meditation and dream analysis.

He says it was one workshop that put him on the path to becoming a magician.

The participants had to write on a blank piece of paper what they wanted from life.

"I wrote: 'What I want out of life is to travel the world and get paid lots of money to have lots of fun anywhere I am'," he recalls.

"I read it and went 'yeah right, everyone wants that.' Two days later I got a call from a magician to help him with some marketing."

It was that magician who gave him a book telling of 4,500-year history of performing magicians. Elovalis was hooked and Mario was born.

His first show was a children's party and from there he went to the red dust mining town of Port Hedland where he performed in a shopping center for the local Aboriginal community.

At first an unlikely magician, Mario had to overcome a fear of performing as well as learn a range of simple magic tricks.

Shortly after he would take his first steps toward fulfilling his dream he wrote down in that workshop, setting off overseas with a backpack, his bag of tricks and A$60 (US$51).

The money ran out but not before he reached Bangkok where he ended up with just pennies in his pocket and entertained the locals for a meal and a place to stay.

It was during this year stint in Bangkok that he honed his skills, practicing new tricks for up to six hours a day.

From "mind reading" to changing a 100-yuan (US$14.60) note into a 1-yuan note to an "infinite" number of card tricks, Mario the Almost Magnificent always has a new trick to surprise and awe.

Understandably, his friends in Shanghai don't let him play poker. But while recreational card games may not be in the offing, he transforms into his almost-magnificent self for weddings, corporate events, at restaurants and even for a beauty contest.

One of his first performances was at a Miss Shanghai contest and his most recent gig was at last weekend's Australian Chamber of Commerce Ball.

He is also slated to be one of the acts at the soon-to-be-opened burlesque club China Town.

Having seen life's darkness, this Aussie magician says bringing joy and laughter into the world is where the real magic in his act can be found.

"I love to make people laugh but I also like to reignite a sense of wonder," he says. "Especially these days when cynicism is the fashion and people believe they have seen it all before." Anyone interested in booking Mario can contact him at or at 1368-1600-873.Vasilios Elovalis

Nationality: Australian/Greek

Age: 21 (with 30 years' experience)

Profession: Magician, actor, marketing/promotions consultant


Self-description:Blessed, joyful and surfing the endless moment.

Favorite place: YY's (Yin Yang Club).

Strangest sight: Locals jogging backward.

Worst experience:The closing of Mazzo.

Motto for life:Follow your dreams, except for the one where you're naked in church.

How to improve Shanghai:


Advice to newcomers:Invite me to your poker nights. Please.


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