Elegant Magical Artistry: An Interview with Nique Tan

Written by Enrico


Imagine the future. It is one step before us. Imagine the ability to gain a glimpse of this foreseeable distant time, and adding an advantage to your decisions.


In the UK, we have television and stage celebrity Derren Brown, whose predecessor was David Berglas. In the USA, Max Maven. Canada boasts of husband-wife team of The Evasons, and Gary Kurtz. In Singapore, among a few notable mindreading practitioners, we have Nique Tan.


I have watched Nique grow up, literally, in magic. His maturity belies his age, for he has acquired skills that are simply astounding and impressive. First and foremost, he possesses exquisite sleight of hand skills. He won his first magic award when he was 15 years old. His third magic award at the IF Magic Festival contest saw him place behind two magicians who would, susbequently, win a FISM champion prize, and an International Brotherhood of Magicans (IBM) award. The first place winner was Charlie Caper from Sweden, and Jeremy Pei from Singapore. Pei, who is the first Singaporean to win an IBM Annual Magic Convention trophy in the Stage Category – a seasoned performer and show producer –  is the producer of Nique’s show at the Raffles Jubilee Hall, The Raffles Hotel, Singapore.


Nique is a graduate who decided early to take the road less travelled. His creative and artistic sides saw him pursue magic and music with equal gusto. He competed in regional magic competitions as well as national talent quests. His band emerged as one of the top-finalists, and he garnered fame as a guitarist and singer. On the magic side, he won club-level contests as well as convention awards. All this while, he was refining his performing skills, and earning a professional living as a magical entertainer and musician. He does most categories of magic, and performs for a wide spectrum of audiences.


As a pure sleight of hand exponent, Nique is second to none on the national level. He has developed advanced sleight of hand skills, although his skills of psychological influence has been highly atuned. New York-based, Singaporean close-up magical entertainer, Prakash described Nique: ‘He has beautiful hands. He has powerful chops. It is lovely to watch him perform!’ Nique’s graceful but certain hands are analogous to a well-trained musician, and he still practices on his guitar regularly. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that the exponents of sleight of hand magic with cards such as Dai Vernon, Guy Hollingworth and Michael Close play the piano; Penn Jillette plays the bass.


This one-night-only, mind-reading and mentalism act will feature the best material in his current repertoire. An evening of wonders to engage and entertain your mind can only be experienced.


I present to you…Mind-Reader…Intuitive…Mind Magician…Nique Tan!






Name/Stage name: Nique Tan
Status: Married
Years in magic: 21
Branches of magic practiced: close up, parlour, stage
Hobbies: Magic (practicing, performing), Music (writing), Eating (fattening)
Awards in magic: 1997 IBM Ring 115 Card Magic Competition Champion, 2003 IBM Ring 115 Stand Up Magic Competition Champion, 2005 IF Close Up Magic Competition 2nd Runner Up
Likes: Magic, Mentalism, Music, Great Food.










Enrico Varella: When does your show take place? What will it be called?


Nique Tan: The show is entitled ‘Mind Magic’, and it plays on the 8th of June at Jubilee Hall at The Raffles Hotel, at 8pm.

EV: Briefly, what would your show be about?

NT: The show is essentially a mind reading show, which is magic that has a kind of mental or psychic feel to it. Magicians would generally categorise this kind of performance as a branch of magic known as ‘mentalism’.


In this show, I have selected a mixture of material to present. Some of which I perform regularly in my professional engagements; others are variations of my regular material; some are actually new pieces I probably would not get the opportunity to do very often (due to technical and/or staging issues), unlike in a controlled environment such as the theatre.

EV: What was it like putting this show together?

NT: At first glance, the entire process actually looked quite complicated and daunting to me, but I do have Jeremy Pei, a good friend of mine who has much experience in putting together shows such as this, to give me guidance along the way. There are aspects such as the ticketing, booking of venue, publicity, and then there is the actual show material itself.


I guess, logistically, the processes involved can be quite similar to other shows, but the big challenge for me is the actual writing and the selection of material for the show. Obviously, as with any other performers I have my own heroes to look to for reference, but you also do want to have your own slant on things. And, coupled with the fact that there are not many performers doing this kind of a show here for me to consult with, meant that you really have to go with your instincts alone on what you think will play, and that can be a scary thing. Mentalism has a reputation for being boring.

EV: What are your expectations and your main goals for this show?

NT: My main goal for this production is actually to mark a point in my career where I aim to perform mentalism exclusively. Currently, I do a varied mix of shows professionally, a part of which are mind reading shows, but I do hope to be able to fully make a transition into mentalism.


EV: Why mentalism? You are known widely for your sleight of hand abilities.

NT: This is a question that I have asked myself too often! And after much thought, I actually think that it is a natural thing for me to take to performing mentalism.


People who know me or have seen me perform, know that I am a “talking-based” kind of performer, and am more comfortable doing interactive type of routines, as opposed to performing silent manipulative type of magic. In fact, due to the pressures of commercial value, I used to have an opening act of sorts for my stage shows, with the usual silks, canes, torches and multiplying balls, but I always recall feeling extremely uncomfortable on stage with all the posing and body movements to music, until I grabbed the microphone and started to speak.


And since mentalism is quite a patter and presentation dependent performance, and I feel more comfortable talking on stage, I kind of found myself naturally gravitating towards it.


And while some of my friends have commented that all the years of training in sleight of hand have gone to waste, I think not. That kind of magic actually trains you in many aspects of timing and much of the theory behind sleight of hand magic is also applicable to mentalism. I also still use sleights in the show, though they are now more covert.


There is also the issue of believability in performance. People, when unable to figure out the method, would normally dismiss a magic trick as just that – a trick. It tends to be different (for me at least) when it comes to mentalism. Logically, while still impossible, there is a feeling of “realness” to it that is hard to simply dismiss.


The same goes for how I perform everyone’s favourite Ambitious Card, but with a gambling themed presentation. I get stronger reactions from the exact same sequence, method and all, just by framing it in a believable manner. Hardly anyone believes that a snap of the finger brings the card to the top; it has to have some kind of “process” that people can latch onto.

EV: Describe what it is like putting up your own show.

NT: The first thing I immediately felt is that I owe everyone who is coming to the show, who actually took the time to come, spend their hard earned money on tickets, to lend their support, to put up a good show. I never take my audiences for granted, and at times have many imaginary demands that I feel obligated to meet. And with that feeling, I guess other things will fall into place and you will do what needs to be done to achieve that (hopefully, I might add).


It is a roller-coaster mixture of feelings to be honest. You are excited about it, you are fearful about results, you get stressed out thinking about it, you get discouraged when ideas do not seem to work out and then you get excited again when you make progress.

EV: Is mentalism the next big thing in magic?

NT: With the surge in interest in magic forums, it would certainly seem to be. Suddenly it appears to be cooler to be able to read minds than it is to do a card trick.


However, in my opinion, I do not think of it as one form of magic being superior to another. For an extreme example, I do not think that just because you do children’s parties, you are less of a performer as compared to someone performing a huge illusion on stage. Children’s magic can be artistic as well and there is a science to it – not everyone can handle a children’s party. Likewise, the charisma and showmanship required for illusions is not something all of us possess. Each of us in our own space of performing has our own set of skills which enable us to perform.


So while mentalism has gained popularity, it is not a new thing and it is certainly not something that is superior to more traditional magic per se.

EV: Who are your main influences in magic? Name the magicians who were/are major influences in the type of magic that you do?

NT: In my earlier days, and I am sure this will not come as a surprise to anyone who has watched me grow up in the magic club, it was Gary Kurtz. Much of what I know and practice (even in my kid show), perhaps about 80% of thinking and style, I attribute to him. Everything in terms of technique, performance theory, types of effects, handlings, approach to methods – all Kurtz. Study his work and you will improve.


Then there are others such as Guy Hollingworth, John Bannon, Larry Jennings, Max Maven, Derren Brown, Jeff McBride, Tommy Wonder to name a few.

EV: Who were the magic heroes that you have met?

NT: I have met many “celebrity” magicians, and some memorable ones come from chatting with Max Maven and Tommy Wonder, sessions with Lennart Green, Lee Asher and Shoot Ogawa.


The biggest person I would love to meet is of course Gary Kurtz – something that I may want to simply go and have happen one day, if I get crazy enough! I have only had opportunities to speak with him over emails.


EV: What are your main concerns about magic?

NT: There are sadly, many things that I hate about magic as it stands. I think it is too easy to learn magic now, and secrets mean little to magicians. What we perform and use, are ideas of others. If you have spent time working on something, going through all the trials, the frustration and heartaches in creating something, you will know how it feels like to have an idea given away cheaply or simply stolen.


Then there is the rush for people who have just started learning magic and then going out and calling themselves magicians.


Magician problems aside, I think we live in a society that trivialises what magicians do. There are many times I find myself performing for people who immediately think of magic as something you only show children. There is then, on my part, a temptation to not take the magic too seriously and to play that game as well, and I feel pretty lousy after such a gig.


Therein is the thin line between performing effectively and yet remaining true to what my vision for magic should be. This is a problem, especially so if what you envision does not seem to play locally. It can drive one crazy.

EV: What do you think about the television appearances/series of local magicians?

NT: I think it is great that magicians have the chance at being on television. It can be lots of fun (having done television work myself) but it is also hard work.


Exposing the public to magic and what we do can educate them and have them more readily accept that what we do is something special. After all, not just anything gets to be shown on television, so magic must be something worthwhile.


However, the public also begins to have certain expectations of magic, and I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I have been asked to do something that so and so did on television, or to make their signed card go through a window.

EV: Is there too much magic on television and online?

NT: I think it is at the breaking point. Again, with information so readily available, it can aid or hurt. There is a difference between exposing the public to magic, and exposing magic to the public. It is, of course, a big difference.


I, for one, cannot for one moment understand the need for some people to upload what’s come to be known as “tutorials” of magic effects online. They shoot themselves doing the marketed effect and then expose the whole thing, to which they have no right to, for the world to see. In my opinion they should literally just, shoot themselves.


EV: Who do you consult when you encounter magic problems?

NT: While I speak with a few close friends such as Jeremy Pei and Prakash Puru (whilst he was in Singapore), the first person I usually consult is the wife! She has a good balance of layperson versus magician thinking and presents both sides of the story well to me.

EV: What kind of consulting work have you done?

NT: Be prepared for a lot of “somes” coming up. I have consulted for some episodes, for some television specials of some other magicians. I have also done some commercials using magic, and also consulted for Jeremy Pei’s theatre show.

EV: Which were some of your memorable moments in performance?

NT: I have had many over the years, but one that still feels so dreamy to me was when I was performing/sessioning with Jay Chou and some of his friends at his hotel during one of his concerts here. Being into music myself quite heavily at one time, the relevance of the experience still makes me warm inside.

EV: What were some of the strangest requests asked of you during performances?

NT: I had a girl ask if she could me home that night, which was fine, except that her husband was right beside her; when I replied stating that very fact, she flatly said that it did not matter if I was willing to share. Right.


I have also had someone ask me to “show him my devil”. Apparently he believes that I reared some kind of little ghost in my pocket or something like that.


EV: Why did you pursue magical entertainment as a career?

NT: To be honest, I had a very hard time deciding on a career path. While I finished my university education, I never knew what it was I wanted to do, but kind of knew what I did not want to do, which sort of narrowed down the options for me.


Magic was something I loved and still do, and I guess I was not that bad at it. And so with the encouragement of some friends at the time, fellow professionals such as Danny Koh and Jeremy Pei, I went into it.

EV: How has your family been supportive of your choice of profession?

NT: As a kid, my parents were very supportive as they, painstakingly, funded my magic education. My younger brother, who was also doing magic at one time, also watched a lot of magic that I was working on during my developmental years.


Currently, the most supportive person is my wife, who follows me to almost every show I do now. It is like she works everyday outside of her regular work and, although tired, she still accompanies me. She handles my music cues as well. One important aspect is the moral support I feel when I know she’s there somewhere.

EV: Which is the hardest form of magic you can perform?

NT: From a technical standpoint, the sleight of hand work is tough, for obvious reasons. However, I feel that different forms of magic have their own challenges. I am lucky, very lucky in fact, to be able to adapt and be quite versatile; and while you sometimes lose sight of who you really are as a performer, you do get to do more gigs. The problems I face are not so much the actual methods anymore, but the delivery and the ability to hold the crowd.


EV: Please elaborate…


Children’s parties, corporate shows, and mentalism shows all pose their own set of challenges when it comes to actually performing them. Sure, you can do an effect flawlessly. That will not ensure you will be successful when it comes to doing an actual paid show. But I try to learn with each performance and with each one you do, you kind of, “level up” so to speak, using video gaming terminology.


EV: What is your creative process like?

NT: In all honesty, I hardly create absolutely new material. While it irritates me, when it comes to both music and magic, I have always been a better performer than creator.


However, when I do create, I look at what it is I want to achieve, the look of the effect I wish to have, and simply work backwards from there, trying as much as possible not to compromise on the conditions.

EV: How do you select new material for your shows?

NT: As you get to know yourself better as a performer, you begin to instinctively know what works or does not work for you, and choosing material becomes easier, as compared to when you first began magic and wanted to do everything.


I think choosing material has two components. Choosing methods, and choosing effects. I look at an effect and then decide if I can see myself performing it. There are many effects I love, but know that there is not a chance that I could pull it off, due to genre or style.


Then, the methods portion comes when you discover a new or old method, and decide if it allows for a closer match to what you imagine the effect should be like. There are many routines in my repertoire, where the effect remains the same throughout to audiences, but methods keep evolving.

EV: Describe your first magical experience – that moment when you said to yourself: ‘This is for me!’

NT: This has to be watching David Copperfield on television as a kid. I think he has a big part to play when it comes to influencing my generation of magicians to take up magic. An interesting point to note is that many of the magicians in my generation, who took up magic, all ended up turning professional.

EV: Since you spend little time outside of magic with other magicians, how do you create new illusions?

NT: As I mentioned before, I hardly create. I practise a lot – it has always been something that I do naturally and during practice I guess I do come up with stuff, just out of play.

EV: What is your bucket list in magic? What would like to realise before you retire from this art form?

NT: If I think about it, I do not think I would ever want to retire completely from performing, but I think the transition towards the later part of things would be to perform the kind of shows I want to, and also to be performing not out of necessity.


EV: If you were not practising magic, which career would you have pursued?

NT: I would have probably done something still related to performance in some form. I suspect this to be music related, which is my other hobby and a previous career I pursued at one time. I might also think about some speaking or training related work.

EV: Is Magic a dying art? Why?


NT In recent times I have begun to feel that bad magicians are actually one of magic’s biggest enemies. I think the numbers are increasing as information is so readily available now. And if something is easy to come by, you do not treat it the way it should be treated, and will not cherish it as something special.


Without the right attitude, ethics, passion, motives and respect for magic, magic is too easy to do badly. While it makes me cringe, there is little one can do to combat self-produced online tutorials, torrents, and exposure. This belittling of magic just adds to the whole cycle of trivialising things.


However, I’ll just keep doing my best – in my little corner of the pie!