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Magical shock and awe
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Mario the Almost Magnificent weaves his magic spell on the lovely ladies from China Town, where he will perform later in the year. Photograph byGrant-oh! Buchwald

Faced with a tragedy that threatened to destroy his life, Australian Vasilios Elovalis found an unlikely calling that has taken him around the world where he spreads a little magic in the lives of everyone he meets.

Elovalis, or as he is known in Shanghai as Mario the Almost Magnificent or Ma Ma Hu Hu Mario is a magician with an array of tricks up his sleeve that have befuddled, perplexed and awed even a few NASA scientists.

"I am not a slick magician, I don't do fancy shuffles, I am a bit slumpy bumpy but I recover with magic," he says when describing his act.

Mario, as he likes to be called, spends six months a year in his hometown of Perth in Western Australia, and for the last eight years he has called Shanghai home for the remainder of the year.

He performs what he describes as "close-up" magic, where he walks around the room, sidling up to tables or groups to weave his spells.

Unlike a performance on stage, in which the audience can attribute illusion to tricks of lighting or props, a close-up magical performance can leave audiences wide-eyed with wonder.

"I am not after 'Oh, you are good,' or 'That is really clever'," he says. "I feel if I get that reaction I have failed in a way. I want them to say 'That's impossible, it's magic,' and that's a whole different energy."

From the outback of Australia to the seedy nightclubs of Bangkok, Mario has been leaving people scratching their heads in wonder during his 15-year career.

But this former marketing and advertising executive was taken to the brink of despair, after losing his two-and-a-half-year-old son in a tragic accident.

The toddler managed to get out of the backyard where he was playing and was hit by a car.

"When something like that happens, it makes you think about the big questions in life," he says. "I went to Sydney where I had the nervous breakdown."

After hitting rock bottom, Mario looked for things to help him, trying a range of workshops including meditation and dream analysis.

He says it was one workshop that put him on the path to becoming a magician.

The participants had to write on a blank piece of paper what they wanted from life.

"I wrote: 'What I want out of life is to travel the world and get paid lots of money to have lots of fun anywhere I am'," he recalls.

"I read it and went 'yeah right, everyone wants that.' Two days later I got a call from a magician to help him with some marketing."

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