Turning Tricks

German transplant Jan Rouven fulfills his longtime dream with Vegas magic act

When German magician Jan Rouven was 19, he made a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to see its magic shows. “I realized all the illusion gurus are located here in Vegas, and it made it somehow the magic capital of the world,” he says. “I always dreamed about bringing over my show to Vegas.”

Ten years later, Rouven’s dream is finally coming true. After two years of successful limited engagements at Fremont Street’s Oktober FrightFest, Rouven is bringing his act to Vegas full time with his new show, Illusions, at the Clarion Hotel.

As a child in Cologne, Germany, Rouven became fascinated with magic after watching a performance on television. He became hooked when he received a magic set from his grandmother on his 8th birthday.

At 16, Rouven attended a show by established German magician Frank Alfter. After the show, Rouven approached Alfter backstage and asked if the magician would take him on as a student. Alfter agreed, becoming his mentor for the next two years. (He is now manager and producer of Illusions.) “It’s actually a very American way, because in Germany nobody tells you how to get into that business,” Rouven says. “In America everybody who starts has got a mentor somehow in the magic business. In Germany, everybody cares about their own career in the magic business.”

Rouven is using innovation to make his show stand out in a market saturated with music. He’s invented illusions, and combined them with mental mind acts.

To create what he calls a “modern and contemporary” show that’s free of rhinestones and tuxedos, he’s worked with his choreographer to combine magic with dance, all to the soundtrack of mainstream music. “It’s a little bit like a magic rock concert,” he says of his collaboration with five professional dancers who serve as his assistants. (His dark aristocratic beauty helps create the rock star image: He resembles a slightly emo steampunk vampire who’s not afraid to bare his chest or wear a well-chosen scarf. Case in point, one promotional photo shows him crying a single tear, blackened by eyeliner.)

“When I am about to defy death, the dancers create the atmosphere, the story and the background,” Rouven says. One example of Illusions’ dangerous acts is when Rouven escapes from a padlocked tank of water while his arms, neck and hands are bound with thick chains.

Rouven chose the Clarion because of its intimate setting. “It’s a 450-seat theater, so every seat is a good seat, and for magic it’s important for people to sit up close,” he says. “If you sit far away, people think it’s fake.”

But even if he graduates to a larger venue, Rouven’s goal is the same: “I want people to leave and say, ‘This was different and we’re going to recommend it to all of our neighbors.’”