Freedom of Expression by Dani DaOrtiz
Review by Michael Close
Most readers of this newsletter have probably watched Spain’s Dani DaOrtiz perform, either live during a convention, lecture, or seminar, or via YouTube. My guess is he fooled you (he fools me), and he probably did so several times. Dani’s casual approach, the sense of chaos he implies during his presentations, and the apparent amount of freedom of choice his spectators are given set his magic apart, and make it so deceptive. Dani has expanded the reach of what we commonly call “misdirection,” which, historically, is concerned with controlling what the spectators focus on visually. Dani, of course, is a master of controlling this, but also applies psychological misdirection, controlling the spectators’ perception and memory of events. This leaves the spectators with the impression they were in charge of everything, freely making all the decisions; it seems as if the magician did nothing.
This type of audience management comes from the work of Dani’s two mentors, Juan Tamariz (psychological control and memory distortion) and Lennart Green (casualness and implied chaos). What we see in Dani’s performances is the result of thirty years of refining those ideas, culminating in techniques and strategies that are so deeply ingrained in Dani’s performing persona they are invisible. This has led some magicians to come to the conclusion only Dani can get away with the techniques he uses. This assumption is incorrect.
If, in the past, you tried to incorporate these techniques by imitating Dani’s mannerisms, personality, and scripts, you probably had only limited success. The same situation occurred when magicians tried to imitate Slydini; gestures and body language that looked so natural when performed by Slydini, looked artificial when mimicked thoughtlessly. The key to using these techniques successfully is to put the emphasis on the “why” rather than the “how” when studying them.
More than a decade ago, in an attempt to collate and codify the various psychological techniques he had developed, Dani wrote Libertad de Expresión (2009, Spanish). The book was enthusiastically praised, and was translated into French and Italian. Happily, after a long wait, Freedom of Expression: A Study of Psychological Forces and the Psychology of Forcing is now available in an English edition.
Freedom of Expression (FOE, from now on) is divided into three sections. The first section, Attitude & Concepts, is the shortest in terms of page length, but contains vital information. Right up front, Dani states, “The key to guaranteeing the success of all the techniques in this book [is] your attitude.” He then offers several examples explaining why the proper attitude is so important. In presenting these examples, he reinforces a key point: “Please do not try to imitate me or let yourself be influenced by my persona when trying to use psychology in magic. Each of us has his or her own personality, a unique way of communicating with our audiences. The words I use, the way I move, how I treat my audience, the way I think and process…is different from everyone else – just as your way is unique. This does not make you better or worse, just different. What I would like to state in these pages is the essence of the psychology behind each move. But creating a whole psychological process must rely on your own personality.” As you work through FOE, I suggest you return to these opening pages often, as a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Section two, Psychological Forcing and the Psychology of Forcing, is the largest section; it contains Dani’s insightful strategies for forcing techniques you may be familiar with, including the classic force, forcing the seventh card, verbal forces, magician’s choice, forcing from a fan, fishing, miscellaneous psychological forces, and methods for dealing with mistakes that may occur during these procedures.
Section two contains so much information it is easy to get overwhelmed. Fortunately, section three contains effects that put the techniques into action. All the routines are worth studying, but I would suggest starting with At the Tips of My Fingers. Using a set-up, a simple card control, and an easy fishing procedure, you are able to dramatically produce two selected cards, one of which was only thought of by the spectator. Unraveling the Triple Intuition is also a good “first” routine. In it, three spectators find their selected cards while the deck is in their own hands. A stack and some duplicate cards do the heavy lifting here, allowing you to get comfortable with the verbal techniques involved.
Because so much time had passed between the original Spanish edition of FOE and the English translation, Dani was initially reluctant to release the book. He writes, “When I first thought about translating this book to English, I was afraid of giving everyone access to out-of-date material, since it has evolved since its release in Spanish. But at the same time, I thought it would be great to have all my friends and followers enjoy the basis of what, from a psychological point of view, makes up most of my thoughts regarding magic…John Lovick, Mahdi Gilbert, and Asi Wind made me realize that this book I thought of as ‘out of date’ was not only still fresh and up to date, but also necessary in order to understand the evolution of the magical concepts that had just been born at that time. And, if I have to be honest, I will say I believe they were right, as I still perform and study every technique presented here just the way they are described in this book.”
I am enthusiastic about the value of this book; certainly, card enthusiasts will want a copy for their library. But, since FOE is not inexpensive, I want to offer a couple of caveats. The techniques and strategies offered here differ from sleights like a second deal, a double lift, or a top palm. You can practice the latter moves at home, in front of a mirror or a video camera, and, with time, achieve a competency allowing you to perform routines using those sleights without fear of getting busted. But the psychological forces in FOE cannot be practiced in isolation; yes, you can memorize and rehearse the words you’ll use, but the only way to get competent with the techniques is to perform them for an audience of laymen. If you’re not performing regularly, you might not get the same bang-for-your-buck as someone who performs a lot.
It’s also important to remember that Dani achieves his “I don’t care” attitude because he has a deep toolbox, full of technical knowledge (sleights) and possible pathways (effect choices). Dani’s nonchalant because he knows no matter what happens, he can extricate himself from the situation in such a way the audience will never have an inkling something went wrong. This toolbox only comes from study, experience, and time. If you’re looking for material to achieve immediate gratification, this probably isn’t the book for you.
I am delighted Freedom of Expression is available in English, and I am not in the least disappointed the book doesn’t contain Dani’s most up to day work on the subject. Understanding the genesis of these techniques will make it much easier to understand how Dani has evolved them in his more recent creations.
The bottom line: If you are a fan of Dani DaOrtiz’s work and are in a position to put the strategies offered into practice in real-world performance situations, you’ll find a wealth of information (and some fine routines) in Freedom of Expression. I highly recommend it.
You can purchase Dani's book from www.gkaps.com or your favourite magic dealer! ♦