David and Dania
- America's Magic Couple
- Quick Change Magic
The music begins and a spirited, self-assured couple walks forward. The man is attired in a fancy black tailcoat. His posture and manner instantly suggest that of a ballroom dancer. On his hand is his eye-catching female partner. She moves gracefully with a spirited step in her fancy yellow dance dress. You immediately know this couple has class and that something magical is about to happen. With flair he hands her a small green dress and she clutches it to her front. She strikes a pose as he quickly raises a hoop with hanging fabric strips over her head, then drops it to the floor. Voila! The yellow dress is gone and she is wearing the green one!
This instantaneous change of wardrobe is just the beginning. You are instantly riveted to every move they make. Your emotions are scolding your intellect: You missed it! You have to watch closer. Maybe if you saw it from the back. Then your intellect snaps back at your emotions: But they are doing this totally surrounded by 22,000 people! They are smack dab in the middle of an NBA basketball court! You concede defeat at understanding and predicting this act, and try to sit back and enjoy being baffled.
David Michael Maas and Dania Kaseeva’s story sounds like a fairytale brought about by the changes in the world at the dawn of the new millennium. Both were raised in a circus; they’re together because the Cold War ended. Both recognize the need of the post-modern audience for continuous and rapid visual stimulation. Together they have produced the ideal global act. You want to see it again and again, and it packs small for the airlines and plays big — very big. It has taken them all over the world and brought standing ovations.
David Maas came from a show business family. His dad, Jerry, was a concert pianist and music teacher from Norfollc, Nebraska. Jerry Maas’ boyhood friend was Johnny Carson. Carson, who was destined to be the king of American late-night television, gained a measure of notoriety around rural Nebraska with his magic, and Jerry enjoyed their friendship.
David’s mom, Frances, was one-third of her sister’s popular singing and dancing trio known as The Boyer Sisters. The sisters came close to achieving the same level of fame as The Andrews Sisters. It was inevitable that Jerry and Frances would cross paths on the music circuit. Before long they were married. Relocating to Sarasota, Florida, Jerry took a job with the Circus Hall of Fame. As music director he wrote musical scores and orchestra charts. The Ringling Circus used his creative musical talents for original scores and musical arrangements. Eventually, he became a conductor and bandmaster for the Royal Hanneford Circus.
David came into the world in 1963 and grew up around the circus business. While his father was the musician, like many young men, it was the circus magician that enchanted David. The first magician he saw was the magical ringmaster Philip Morris, who now owns and operates Morris Costumes in Charlotte, North Carolina. At the time, Morris worked with several circus producers providing wardrobe for the large themed scenes known as “spectacles.” His background also involved radio, television, ghost shows, and his own illusion show. Morris had a close relationship with the Royal Hanneford Circus, and his sense of timing and audience control made him an ideal ringmaster, And there was a bonus. In the circus world, having a second act you can add to the bill is called “doubling.” Morris always doubled with his large-scale illusion spot.
Young David Maas would sit on the side of the center ring. He would raise a handfulof sawdust high in the air and let it flitter to the arena floor as he watched Phil Morris pull a live duck from a flaming pan. The duck ended up in a small box and survived being punctured by a dozen swords. Then another duck was brought out of the same box. But that was not all — a girl also came bursting out! David thought, “I have to keep dazzling them to the point where they can’t imagine how I can top what they have seen. Then, I have to top myself.”
David grew mature enough in his late teens to put on his own fancy red tails and perform as the ringmaster. He also bought a few illusions that could be worked in the center ring. The audience warmly accepted him, but the illusions were not very different from other magicians they had seen. He needed a hook, a shtick, a concept that he could call his own.
Dania Kaseeva, like David, grew up in the circus, She is a second-generation circus performet; born in Rostofondon, Russia. Her mother and father were animal trainers and had a big bear act, which Dania’s mother and brother continue to perform. In addition to working with the bears in the center ring, Dania was trained in ballet, gymnastics, and dance. Like most circus acts, Russian girls also develop a second specialty skill for the show. Dania became an expert at twirling hula-hoops, able to keep dozens of them whirling around her slender body. In l9gg, at age 21, Dania traveled to Paris won a gold medal for her high-energy hoop act and at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain.
In the late 1980s, as the Iron Curtain was coming down, the Moscow State Circus, seeking a global audience and income, looked for opportunities to perform in the American market. Dania traveled across the ocean with the Russian circus for a run at Trump’s Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in 1990. This was her first trip to America, “a strange land with an abundance of everything.” She spoke Russian and very little English. At the conclusion of the run in Atlantic City, the Big Apple Circus picked up Dania’s hoop act for their 1991 season. By this time she had been given a special status by Russian officials and allowed to have a work visa to stay in the United States. David Letterman, always on the lookout for the unusual, invited her to perform on his late-night TV show.
When the Big Apple Circus played Lincoln Center in Manhattan, Wayne McCary saw her work. McCary needed a strong act for his Eastern States Exposition Show in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Exposition is an annual autumn extravaganza of entertainment, exhibits, and agriculture in the tradition of the old county fair — but much bigger. It draws visitors from all over New England and beyond, and circus and variety entertainment is a feature of the Exposition show schedule.
Here is where circumstances collide with destiny.
David Maas, ringmaster and announcer, was hired by Wayne McCary to perform in the Exposition variety circus show. Dania was the dynamic hula-hoop act. In a romantic fusion of East and West, the magic of David & Dania began.
At first, David’s idea was to create a spectacular two-person illusion act: perhaps a box or two for vanishing or appearing, some swords for penetrating, and maybe a levitation effect. Dania had all the style and flash of a dancer; David had a strong stage presence from his previous experience as ringmaster and illusionist. The problem was they needed something different.
The Moscow Circus has featured numerous quick-change acts over the years. The idea of quick costume changes dates back at least a century. Leopoldo Fregoli was popular in early vaudeville with his novelty quick-change act. Will Goldston published a section on making quick-change costumes in his 1912 book, Exclusive Magical Secrets.
Dania had an idea for a unique formula. Their act would not be merely the magician and his assistant; they would be partners in the transformations. The transformations would be done with a minimum of cover and the finale with no cover! She had connections back in Russia for creating and sewing the detailed and complex wardrobe needed for their new act.
They decided to create the act the correct way — from scratch. A lucky seamstress was flown over from Russia for their costume fittings and met them in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where a second unit for the Moscow Circus was performing for the season. The seamstress would make a number of transatlantic trips. Each costume needed to be drafted and draped on Dania’s body. Dania was living in New Jersey at the time and David was still Florida-based. Enormous amounts of money went to airf ares and costume fabrics. David recalls spending a small fortune on fabrics for one costume change, then discarding it and starting oven Dania hunted specialty stores in the garment district of New York City trying to find the right weight of fabrics and the correct colors.
The costumes were just part of the formula.
Even though David and Dania had a great deal of experience in stage movement, they hired an award-winning world-class ballroom dance teacher to choreograph every move. David dropped extra weight and learned new ways to move his body. He remembers finishing lessons at the Southern Florida dance studio with sore muscles and a real question if he could ever master the complex moves needed to make their project the perfect visual illusion.
And the perfect visual illusion doesn’t come cheap. David says they spent over $100,000 in costumes, materials, designers, airfares, and music editing to get the act together.
In 1996, David and Dania returned to their circus roots to break in the new act. Even though they both had years of performing experience, this was a new and untested act for them. They had confidence and yet butterflies in their stomachs as they were announced and brought to the center ring of the Royal Hanneford Circus in Columbus, Ohio. David had arranged with his old friend Tommy Hanneford to play a six-month tour. He was doubling as the ringmaster and presenting this new act, “A Magical Transformation.” They came bounding out through the curtain and smoothly went through the act all the way to the glittering finale. The response was immediate and electrifying. The crowd wildly applauded, and as the final uncovered transformation occurred, the audience rose for a standing ovation! They had struck gold!
Everywhere on the Hanneford tour audiences left the circus arena talking about David & Dania. When the tour concluded, the duo signed for a run in the Basin Street Follies at the Showboat in Atlantic City. Their act was so unique that they brought down the house and received extensive press coverage. Word spread internationally and South American producer Enrique Gonzales brought them to Chile for his giant Via Del Mar music festival, where 40,000 people witnessed the act. They have returned six times to play the festival.
David and Dania’s act is not entirely body transformations. Magic is still intertwined into the quick-change theme. David places his black-gloved hand into a red top hat and the glove is instantly changed to the color red. Feather flower Botanias change colors and wine is poured into a bottle, a long white streamer is pulled forth, and the bottle vanishes.
Then there’s the ballroom dance. Trained eyes will recognize classic international ballroom steps throughout their act. Together they do a Paulista shadow step to a Mambo rhythm. Dania executes a perfect Telemark turn as she takes her final bow. Her dynamic hula-hoop act with multiple swirling hoops is danced to the driving Mambo beat of Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca.”
In 2001, a producer from ABC’s Good Morning America saw David & Dania at The Big Apple Circus, which led to them being booked on the nationwide morning show. The show originated from the network’s New York City studios shortly after 9/11. Diane Sawyer gushed over the act and Charlie Gibson added the most common male response, “Would you please teach my wife to do that so she can get ready for a dinner party, fast!” This show was the debut of Dania’s new red, white, and blue, “flag” gown used for their finale. It was the perfect way to capture the strong feeling of patriotism that was needed in those dark days after 9/11.
They were requested to present their act three times before former president of the United States George Bush at his home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Also in the audience was the current president, George W. Bush.
The globetrotting couple has played the European circus circuit. The late ’90s saw them at Circus Conelli in Zurich, Switzerland and Circus Krone in Germany. They played the Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen and the Lido in Paris. In 2003 they played the prestigious Festival du Cirque in Monte- Carlo. David credits the doors to the European market being opened by their FISM 1997 performance in Dresden, Germany. It was a big event for David & Dania. They were hired to perform as part of the activities and received a standing ovation from the 2400 attendees.
They have been featured in stage shows on the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. On dry land they have done television appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, America’s Got Talent, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Sally Jessie Raphael Show, and the Steve Harvey Show.
Just when you would think they couldn’t find another place to do their act, David and Dania emerged as official halftime entertain-ment for the National Basketball Association. “Honestly, we were scared to death,” David says of their first NBA performance, “We had flown into a rainy Seattle for the Supersonics’ halftime show. We had no idea how a sports audience would receive us. We were halfway through our act and I could tell by the roar of the crowd that they liked what we were doing.” For ten straight years now they have thrilled basketball fans in all the team cities.
The National Football League used them at the 50-yard line in Denver for 70,000 people at a Broncos halftime show. They have been on the ice rink of the National Hockey League and the college court for the Big Ten Conference. Their act is ideal for the arena or football field. Everyone can see it, It can be done surrounded, It has a low impact on the wooden court floor or ice rinlc. It is just the right length, seven and a half minutes, and it brings the crowds to their feet. Recently, David has added a costume feature to their act. When performing for a sports team, he ends the act by being transformed into wearing the home team’s official jersey.
About ten years ago, Phil Morris, David’s inspiration from the circus days, suggested that they protect their unique act from copycats. One way to do that is to trademark the name of your act with the U.S. Patent Office. No one else is permitted to use your trademarked name, and the trademark is valid for as long as business is conducted using that name. David and Dania coined and trademarked both “A Magical Transformation” and “Quick Change.” They also patented the mechanical mechanisms and operations of their costumes. A patent protects the inventor from anyone copying his invention for a term of 20 years from the original date of filing.
Even though they are legally protecting their intellectual property, David and Dania will, for the first time, discuss some of their methods at a magic lecture, The talk will take place on March 19th at the South Tyneside International Magic Festival. The couple also plans to market a number of instant-transformation items on their website,
They are scheduled to perform at this year’s International Brotherhood of Magicians Convention in Miami, as well as a few of the It’s Magic shows in Southern California this spring. They are also scheduled for a spot in a the annual Easter variety show at Radio City Music Hall in April, plus plenty of basketball games, as the NBA heads into the playoffs.
Who was that couple? Their act was so different and it just flew by. I’ve got to see them again. Next time, I will be watching closer.
On a recent hot summer day, a satisfied smile crossed the face of an elderly gentleman. His face was chiseled by years in the performing spotlight and experience on the road. Beads of sweat trickled down his face. He had spent many hours in the sweltering garage of his Palm Springs, California home rehearsing a special couple after selling them one of his prize magic acts. The “students” finally had the act down pat. Every move, every nuance of Marvyn and Carol Roy’s Jewelry Act was now David and Dania’s. Marvyn, still the perfectionist, had made them work and work until he was sure they knew his famous act. David and Dania felt honored to be able to purchase the Jewelry Act and carry on the tradition from their magical heroes. “Marvyn and Carol Roy are very special people to us,” David explains. “They have been an inspiration in what they did with their career and how they have such a special relationship on and off stage.” They plan to use the act within an expanded 45-minute show for the cruise lines.
Meanwhile, their seven-and-a-half-minute act is a booking agent’s dream. It is a go- anywhere, play-anywhere act that transcends language barriers and cultural divides. They can fly easily with light baggage. The visual look is contemporary. It is fast and crisp. Their appeal crosses gender and age lines. The ladies love the costumes and the dancing; the men appreciate the sensuality and mystery. It is pure magical eye-candy.
Dennis Phillips teaches in the theater department at the University of Central Florida and Valencia Community College in Orlando. He thanks Philip Morris for his help in creating this story.