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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » October 28, 2009
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Born to Escape
October 28, 2009    wersja polska »
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Andrew Basso, an Italian illusionist and escapologist, is just 23 years old and is already considered the natural successor of the legendary Harry Houdini, the most famous escape artist of all time. During a recent visit to Poland, Basso amazed not only the audience and presenters of public television's popular show Pytanie na ¶niadanie (A Question for Breakfast), but also the police. At a Warsaw police station, officers placed their own handcuffs on him as a test of his skills. Basso-who as a 12-year-old, spent two years improving his dexterity, sensitivity of touch, and practicing hypnotic trance, the art of illusion and mind training-freed himself within 10 seconds, and even managed to steal a watch from the pocket of the officer handcuffing him. Basso took some time out during his trip to Warsaw to speak to Dominik Skurzak.

I know you always wanted to be an illusionist, but why did you choose escapology?
I chose this specialization. It fascinates me to do things no one else can. There are plenty of illusionists like David Copperfield. Escapologists, properly prepared mentally and physically for setting themselves free, are very rare specialists indeed. After six years of studying classic illusionism, I started shifting towards the illusionism practiced by Harry Houdini. By the time I was 14, I was looking for my own path. My father would tie me up with ropes and chains and I would sit tied up for hours, thinking of ways to set myself free. I had character. My wrists were often purple but even then I wouldn't give up. At the time, I had lessons with a professional illusionist once a week, but most of the time I practiced by myself.

After I turned 18 I boarded a plane and went off to Las Vegas. An international illusionism symposium was being held there, and I learned a great deal there. In 2005 at the Los Angeles escape stunt world championship I was the fastest of 14 entrants from all over the world in escaping from a straightjacket. Maestro Steve Baker was there, and said to me after the competition, "I saw so much energy in you that I'd like to share my 50 years of experience with you."

Are escape stunts the most difficult part of the illusionist's profession?
Being a good illusionist is very difficult. To do what I do, you need special additional training. It's a kind of extreme sport. In this specialization, you also have to know everything about all kinds of mechanisms, locks, knots, materials, and then add athletic training as well. Not to mention training for pain endurance and overcoming the fear of being locked up. I learned a lot of things from Jacek Pałkiewicz, a top expert in survival skills. I also train with specialists. For example, I have a coach just for working underwater. I have managed to train myself to control my pulse, I can slow it down. The fact that my specialization is so narrow additionally motivates me. It's narrow because it's more difficult; 99 percent of illusionists don't want to do things as risky and painful as this.

How do you cope with the pressure of solo performances?
To put it briefly: my mental training pays off, and also being used to the stage. I performed on stage with a microphone at the age of eight. It was fun. Years later, when I appeared on large stages, the arena in Verona, before 35,000 people… well, the emotion was huge then. At such times, earlier training in overcoming fear, uncertainty and anxiety helps. All these emotions should explode in a positive way. You have to reach the finish line 100 times out of 100.

Which place would you say you occupy on a list of the world's best illusionists?
That's a tough question. It's for the audience to decide. I don't really know how much audiences enjoy what I do. I'm 23. I don't know where I could be on that list today. Day after day, I do my best to make people remember me as the man who can do the impossible.
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