The first time Sabine van Diemen performed the fire cage illusion on stage she had no prior warning and only 20 minutes to learn how to do it.
In fact, she had no interest in magic at all. She was a ballet dancer with The Holland Show Ballet — and a good one. At 18 years old, she was the youngest person, ever, to dance with the company.
During the ballet’s opening night performance, she was quickly selected to stand in for the original magician who had suffered an on-the-spot ankle injury.
Why her? Simply because of her small stature.
It was that chance encounter that put van Diemen on the road to unparalleled success.
“It’s like an empty cage, and they put fire in it, and boom, you appear,” she says of the tricky illusion that night. “When I came out, I immediately thought, ‘Oh my god, I love this! This is a rush! This is so good. I need more of this.’”
Fifteen years later, the fire cage remains one of the Dutch magician’s favorites. She’s in Boston this week, performing a lead role in “The Illusionists — Live from Broadway” at the Emerson Colonial Theater, March 5-10.
Audiences will see in the show that there are many different types of “magic.”
“We are all magicians, but you have several forms. You have a mentalist, you have a comedy magician, you have the illusionist, the escape artist, the daredevil. I am the illusionist,” she says. “If I perform alone, then I am immediately the magician, but I can’t do any card tricks, for example. I love a good game of cards. I also love to watch card magic. But, it’s not for me. I don’t have the patience.”
For “The Illusionists,” Van Diemen’s stage name is The Sorceress, and it suits her. She’s fierce, she’s strong, and she’s the sole woman in the cast of six. But, offstage, she says she’s just a regular girl.
“In my real life, I am absolutely not like that. It’s just my stage persona. If you come to the show, and you hear me speak, I look fierce, maybe, and a bit feisty, but I am also quite funny. At least I think I’m funny,” she says. “The fierceness and the feistiness goes hand-in-hand. I don’t know how to do it any other way. But, in my normal life, I’m really pretty normal. I’m a very happy stepmother of two. I’m not running around my house looking all fierce.”
Exhale Lifestyle sat down with van Diemen to talk about her career in the male-dominated magic industry, what she loves about being onstage and how she balances work and life.
Exhale: At any point during the last 15 years have you questioned your decision to pursue magic? Why and what made you stick with it?
Sabine van Diemen:I would say all the time and never. I started out as a magician for many, many years. And, I absolutely loved it, until there was a moment …
I was touring a lot with Hans Klock, and we were touring Germany every time, over and over again. I just couldn’t be in a tour bus anymore in the same country. That was the main reason, actually, that I decided to quit.
Then, I had a long thought about it, and I thought, if I stop doing Hans Klock, who is the biggest person in magic I know, if I give this up now, I’ll probably never be on stage any more, in the magic way.
I thought about that then, but still decided to stop. In my head, I was sort of ready.
But, then I got the opportunity to do something alone, and I had actually never thought of that. They were creating a show in London, and I was asked to fill in for a girl, for a lead, and I did that. They said, if we go to the West End, in the summer, would you like to have a spot?
I thought, hell yeah, I am actually not done with this. I am ready to see how far I can take this passion slash hobby slash job, and everything snowballed from there.
When “The Illusionists” asked me, I just thought, this is ridiculous! I thought, how did I get here to this point.
So, yeah, I questioned it a couple of times. Magic is difficult, it’s a niche, it’s sometimes quite tiring, and you need a lot of help from a lot of people.
That sometimes is challenging, but hey, what’s not.
What do you do in your free time, to relax and center yourself?
So many things.
I like to cook a lot. I like to cook for friends. I invite everyone always over to my house, and then I cook for them.
I like to go out with my mom a lot, like we love shopping, and have a nice lunch.
I love to stroll around Amsterdam by myself.
I like hot yoga.
When I come back from a long tour, I always like to take a spa day with the fiancé, because they do spas really well in Holland, with massages, and saunas and all that.
How many languages do you speak? Do you find that magic translates across cultures?
I speak German, French, English and Dutch pretty well. Spanish, I was kind of good at, but I lost my touch a little bit because I spoke too much French, and in my head that gets a little bit mixed up.
There is a massive difference in audiences, actually.
If you compare a Dutch audience to an American audience, that is such a big, big difference. And, then, comparing those two to the Chinese audience is, again, such a big difference.
To me, I like to play for American audiences. They suit my kind of performing well.
In Holland, people don’t have patience, it’s a little bit like, okay, I want to tell a story before I start the music and pump up the volume and jump into a box. I want to tell you why I’m gonna jump into this box. It’s not a history lesson or whatever, but sometimes I just want to make them aware about Houdini or about a specific idea that came to me.
American people, and English people by the way, are very interested in that. They’re very open to listening and they have the patience to listen if you have something to say. I feel like the Dutch people are like, ‘Yah, yah, whatever, get on with it!’ So, I feel like they’re impatient. I talk a little bit less if I do a show for a Dutch audience. I cut my script in half.
You’re presented as “the” female horseman in “Now You See Me Live” and ‘the’ female magician in “The Illusionists.” Do you feel like you earned your spot with your talent alone, as in “best of the best, non-gender specific” or rather just “best of the women”?
Let me put it this way. If I was a boy, I would still be in this show, doing the same thing.
I do think sometimes, fortunately or unfortunately, and it depends on how you look at it, and I hope in the future it’s going to be different, but because there aren’t many women, of course, sometimes I feel like, did I get this gig because I am a female? Like, really? And, then, I look at it and go, ‘No, no.’ They have so many shows that go out, and there are no women at all. They just choose who the best at that moment.
If you could throw one piece of advice into the atmosphere, what would it be?
Voice what you want to do, want to become, or want to achieve in life to everyone that wants to hear it. I’m a really strong believer that you can turn the universe into your advantage by just talking about ‘I want to do this’ or ‘I want to become this.’ Or little things, like ‘I would like to travel to New York.’ Just talk. Throw it out there. It will help you.