A dreadlocked, floating oddity who managed to hover about a metre off the ground got everyone talking at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.
While his performance left adults and children gasping in delight, the ancient levitation secrets of a wise old Indian guru are safe with street performer and illusionist Emil du Toit.
Asked how he did it by throngs of curious festival-goers, Du Toit said he would never tell.
“I spent my whole life searching for the secret and now that I have it, I am not telling anyone,” he said.
The Pretoria-born illusionist, who lives on an organic farm in Ireland, has travelled the world for the past 10 years with his Ananda Guru act. “I get all sorts of reactions,” he said. “I like to test the intelligence of people and take them out of their comfort zone – even if it means that hardline Christians sometimes throw Bibles at me and Muslims say prayers.”
Wrapped in a flowing, bright orange outfit, Du Toit skilfully urges people not to take photos without dropping some cash into a dish below his hovering body.
A small crowd gathered around while Du Toit was being interviewed at the Village Green market place.
In just seconds, he appeared to be floating about a metre off the ground – holding onto only a silver stick.
His street act garnered shocked gasps from watching children and adults, with some saying it was a clever party trick.
“It’s not a party trick. I don’t do party tricks. I’m an illusionist,” Du Toit said.
Du Toit, 50, has been a street performer for 30 years. His training in levitation began nine years ago in India, where he mastered the art, he said.
But he would not say how he does it, as he seamlessly levitated in front of the awestruck watchers.
“It is my secret, my own special muti,” he said.
Du Toit set his sights on solving the levitation riddle at a young age.
“It is all about having fun. I give everyone who helps a small piece of paper – it makes them smile and gets others curious to find out more.”
While most people accept his refusal to divulge his trick, some festival-goers have been “rude”, insulting him as they try to find out his secret.
“I had a situation where some people harassed me aggressively – they must understand what I do is fun,” he said.
Du Toit is one of a number of artists in Grahamstown performing for tips, with this the first time he has performed his levitating act at a festival.
As the market place teemed with visitors enjoying yesterday’s sunny weather following a few days of extreme cold, Du Toit bemoaned what he said was a decline in foot traffic.
“[The festival] is not what it used to be – it is not worth it anymore,” he said.
“I just make enough for food and accommodation now.”
Before calling it a day, Du Toit collected the coins and notes from his “tips” container and put them in his bag, planning to grab something to eat before performing again in the evening.
While the first weekend of the festival saw sold-out shows and thousands of national and international visitors, stall owners were praying for better business this week following a slow start.