For “Van Baltus,” the magic continues at Teatro Libertad

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
“Van Baltus” brings magic to the stage in Mérida. Photo: Courtesy

Whoever said Howard Van Baltus was dreaming when he said he’d put on a magic show in Mérida? Certainly not an enthusiastic audience that packed the historic Teatro Libertad on opening night. 

Van Baltus’s eponymous show was just as promised: A Vegas-style performance with illusions grand and small, accompanied by a young troupe of dancers and assistants who kept the stage alive with color and movement. 

The Philadelphia-born magician, who has performed professionally since he was 9, made himself shrink. He made a lady’s head spin around. There were card tricks. He made it snow from crumpled papers in his hands. And it was a really pretty snowfall, too.

Previously: Howard Van Baltus keeps it weird, and we like it that way

The crowd ate it up. They oooh’d and ahhh’d at the right times and laughed at his jokes, spoken in Spanish, with occasional English. (The show is mainly visual, so there is no language barrier to enjoying the show.) After the lovely snowfall finale, they left with smiles on their faces. 

“Van Baltus,” the show, went incredibly smoothly unless that, too, was an illusion. Rehearsals began last year, so the cast knew its roles well. Van Baltus himself was engaging and charming.

The performance consists of two acts covering 17 scenes and more than 20 illusions. And they flew by swiftly due to fast pacing and numerous costume changes and shifts in mood.

An assistant helps magician Howard Van Baltus perform a seemingly painful illusion on stage in Mérida. Photo: Courtesy

“The extravaganza has been a work in progress for almost four years,” Van Baltus said. “The rehearsals take place late at night, while the city sleeps, in a secret location in Mérida.”

In his younger years, Van Baltus was a retail executive, but his heart was in the world of illusion. When the Internet boom began, he created one of the first online magic shops. It was the first store to offer online videos of magic demonstrations of the tricks for sale. Years later, he created original tricks and illusions along with a line of high-quality collectible magic tricks that were sought after by enthusiasts and professional magicians around the world.

A magical snowfall brings the “Van Baltus” opening night show to a close. Photo: Courtesy

Until now, Van Baltus’ realm has been parties and private events, as well as dinner-theater shows that were consistently sold out in the New York metropolitan region for several years.

His attention turned to Mérida several years ago, and for a long time, he quietly planned an ongoing show, not a one-off, like most performances here. Municipal bureaucracy did not make that easy, but whatever frustrations preceded the show, they were not evident on stage last week.

“Van Baltus” resumes Thursday at Teatro Libertad in the Santiago neighborhood. Tickets are on sale at TusBoletos or at the box office.

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