The Dennis Loomis Cups and Balls Routine by Dennis Loomis
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2005)
Dennis Loomis is a professional magician from the Bay Area who has applied some different methodological approaches to what is essentially (as he quite fairly points out) the structure of Dai Vernon's classic routine for the Cups and Balls. Mr. Loomis performs the routine while seated at a table, using Don Alan's design idea of stretching saddle bags across the seat of the chair in order to hold the props and loads (however Mr. Loomis is actually using small plastic wastepaper buckets rather than cloth or can-vas bags). He has added one additional phase to the Vernon routine, a "three-ball dispersal" effect, in which after the three balls assemble under the center cup, they magically transpose back to their original positions, i.e., one beneath each up. (Such a phase has been seen else-where I first saw it in the hands of Michael Skinner but this author's handling is sound and surprising.) He has also added a "smash color change," the instantaneous color-change of a single ball beneath a cup, which occurs just before the revelation of the final loads (and serves as mis-direction during the procedure leading into that climax).
Mr. Loomis's methodological alterations are centered on his elimination of any and all false transfers. (In fact, as he points out, there is a single false transfer for purposes of construction during the preparatory actions for the final loads, but this transfer is not used for a vanish.) Thus all the steals and loads are accomplished under cover of either setting the cups down onto the table or lifting them from the table. All these moves already exist in the literature, of course, but Mr. Loomis describes them lucidly and useful-ly. His theoretical point about this fundamental alteration of the method is that such transfers are illogical: it makes more sense to simply place a cup over a ball, rather than transfer a ball from one hand to the other and place it beneath a cup with the fingers.
I cannot argue the author's logic, but the argument only gets you so far. After all, this logic really has to do with the issue of naturalness, and literal naturalness is not always what best serves the interests of good magic. When Vernon promoted naturalness in magic, he never meant literal naturalness; rather he meant trained naturalness (to use John Thompson's term) or what I have dubbed "supra-naturalness" (and which is explored in detail further in the essay, "Unnatural Acts," in my book, Shattering Illusions). Thus I do not dispute the author's claim that his approach is more logical; similarly, it may even be more natural. But as to whether it is superior for magic's purposes, that is another question.
I have no doubt that the routine is effective in Mr. Loomis's hands; he has been performing it for some 30 years or more. However, there are other benefits to the use of false transfers. Incessantly banging cups up and down is not necessarily the most elegant or aesthetically pleasing way to handle them; I like banging the cups around (Charlie Miller liked the noise of the cups and endorsed its inclusion) but I don't want to handle them solely in this potentially ham-fisted or childlike manner. There is a sense of clarity that comes from handling things precisely and at the fingertips that is part of using false transfers; a sense of fairness and deliberation, without being prissy about it. Too, there is a large price which Mr. Loomis pays for his approach: the balls never vanish from your hands. Yet such vanishes have a distinctly different more magical feel to them than simply causing a ball to disappear from beneath a cup. When a solid ball vanishes from your hand, you have clearly violated a fundamental law of physics: matter can neither be created nor destroyed. I, for one, would hate to abandon the power and poetry of this effect, an effect far more important to the routine, in my estimation, than the cup-to-cup transpositions.
This is not to suggest that those transpositions are not valuable; for me, what is most valuable about the first cup-to-cup transposition in the original Vernon routine is the opportunity it presents to involve the audience, by allowing them to choose a cup. Mr. Loomis, however, has abandoned that option, preferring to merely demonstrate the ability to magically move the balls from one cup to another. My point is not to denigrate Mr. Loomis's routine here, but merely to point out that every time you make a change, you give something up in return for adding or substituting something else. So I confess I prefer to stick with Mr. Vernon's choices at least in the areas under discussion. That said, Mr. Loomis has provided a well-produced little booklet, with clear photo-graphs and concise explanations, which may be of interest to many students of this classic routine.