Todd Kelmar, Staff Photographer

It was, if nothing else, quite a sight. The audience in a sold-out May Room sat straight-backed, arms raised above their heads, fingers interlaced and palms facing skyward. Some stared directly ahead, their eyes locked on the intense, animated man onstage. Some glanced around, curious, while others looked on in what was perhaps doubtful anticipation.

The man spouted off a never-ending stream of instructions which, after positioning the audience in this unusual configuration, culminated in the simple suggestion that we attempt to separate our hands.

Some laughed and complied with ease; others struggled for a few moments before finally lowering their arms; and some, well, couldn’t. Or so they thought.

Mentalist Alain Nu, who performed at UR on Friday, Jan. 18, is perhaps most well-known for his TLC series “The Mysterious World of Alain Nu;” he explained to the audience that he has been interested in the power of the mind since he was young. Although hypnotism was the core of Friday’s show, Nu noted that he is not usually billed as a hypnotist. Rather, as he explains on his MySpace page, he “[presents] programs that are designed to inspire contemplation of one’s own human potential.”

Hypnotism, as Nu described during the show, is all about letting the conscious and subconscious mind learn the same message, which allows us to deprogram specific mental conditions and frees us to act as we might not have previously.

Nu himself is living proof.

“I hypnotized myself into being a hypnotist, and that’s the truth,” he said after the show.

Nu’s Friday performance was a bundle of controlled chaos, throwing the audience for one loop after another while maintaining an overall feeling of pure entertainment.

The show began as Nu, wearing black blazer, black pants, and a microphone hanging around his neck, strode onto the stage. He spoke with purpose, as if every word meant something of great importance (which, as we later learned, was true). After introducing himself, he started slow (though hardly dull) with a card trick, in what appeared to be an attempt to gain the audience’s trust.

Nu enlisted several students to choose different characteristics of a playing card. He then brought one of the volunteers up to the stage, promising that if he picked the right card from the deck — the king of diamonds — the volunteer could keep the cards.

“I’ll make sure to sign them and decrease their value instantly,” he joked.

And lo and behold, after counting off the first 16 cards in the deck, the king of diamonds appeared. It was your typical card trick, yes, but with just enough twists to keep things interesting and shed some doubts.

The highlight of the show, though, came when Nu singled out eight volunteers to be hypnotized onstage. After lulling the participants to sleep, speaking deliberately in a tone that made even some audience members conk out in their seats, he appeared to have total control over the majority onstage, save for a few who he sent back into the crowd.

The allure of this segment could be found in the most miniscule of moments — a wrinkle of the nose, a disdainful glance, a sharp jerk of the head. At one point Nu convinced the volunteers that their neighbors were emanating a horrifying smell. When he asked the last volunteer if there was anything wrong, she simply gave him a look that clearly said, “Do you have to ask?” and shifted her chair away from her neighbor.

Nu didn’t need the participants to do anything wild to entertain the audience (although it was certainly humorous when they did) – by simply relying on those natural moments, he was able to pull humor from the volunteers with ease.

One of the male participants was by far the most entertaining of the group.  He seemed to be the most affected by Nu’s techniques, taking every instruction with the utmost seriousness, especially during a “manliest man competition” in which he spared no expense, even going so far as to pluck a girl from the audience for a partner during a dance number (although she ran back to her seat before they reached the stage.)

In addition to these more anticipated segments of the show, Nu also gave the audience some background about hypnotism, during which we were allowed to ask questions.

Although this portion became a bit dry at times, it did provide a helpful context to Nu’s material and included some rather fascinating tidbits of information.

Nu claims that if, when watching a sports game, you feel the need to mimic a motion that you hope one of the players will make (e.g. kicking a ball or dodging an opponent), you are, in a sense, hypnotized. It was clear that Nu was interested not only in putting on a dynamic show but also in the scientific process behind his act — a detail which gave his performance an increased sense of depth and intrigue.

Nu was appropriately prepared for the more doubtful in the room as well. Near the end of the show, he brought two volunteers onstage who said they had not been affected by any of the segments in which audience participation was encouraged. While their eyes were closed, Nu tickled one under the nose with a feather and tapped him on the shoulder, all while maintaining a steady narrative. Astonishingly, both participants claimed they felt these movements even though only one had been touched.

The performance ended with a bang.  First, Nu tossed a crumpled piece of paper into the audience to pick a volunteer at random.  He then asked the volunteer a series of questions including where the volunteer would most like to travel (Italy, which was answered aloud) and what age the volunteer thinks he will be when he makes it there (24, which the volunteer wrote down). Nu then came up with a set of numbers which, when added up in any direction, equaled 24.

But Nu wasn’t done yet. With a flourish, he opened up the original crumpled paper that read, you guessed it, Italy. Excited gasps and titters emanated from the crowd as Nu looked on, confident as ever.

Nu’s performance was one that kept the audience on their toes despite his laid back, simplistic showmanship. He was nothing but genuine — a real class act.

Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.

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