Editor’s note: At the start of the 2016-2017 school year, we met all five Ellinwood High School exchange students when Sen. Jerry Moran visited the school. That first visit, we saw Nazar Kayumov perform a simple card trick in the hallway as he assisted other students tacking up posters for an upcoming event. Clearly, his talent was already known by his peers. Later, Nazar was a guest of the Ellinwood Rotary Club, and there he performed several magic tricks, which left that group of Ellinwood professionals both flummoxed and delighted. It also left us wanting to know more about this talented young man.
ELLINWOOD — This year, Ellinwood High School is home to five exchange students from around the world. While each has a unique story and cultural lessons to share, Nazar Kayumov, who hails from Russia, has captured the imaginations of not only his fellow students, but also many adults who have had the pleasure of witnessing the young man’s impromptu magic skills.
A different world
Nazar comes from Rostov-on-Don, with a population of over 1.2 million, located on the Don River, about 20 miles from the Sea of Azov. In the summer, it is very hot, reaching 113 degrees, Fahrenheit.
Other than that, the weather here is very similar.
When he first arrived in Ellinwood,he was really confused, but then it was really good, he said.
“There aren’t big buildings, apartments,” he said. “It’s like another life, like you see in the movies, with small houses and good gardens, and really pretty, the same like in a movie.”
Some of our traditions are similar, like barbecues. While he describes the American barbecue as “open,” in Russia, they are simpler, with only a bonfire and meat.
“Its cool, but sometimes there is nothing to do so we have to go to a larger town to see a movie or cinema, or to go to some fast-food restaurants,” he said.
In Russia, you can get your driver’s license when you are 18, while here, he has learned, he can get one at a much younger age.
“Now I learn the rules, and maybe in two weeks I’m going to the courthouse to take the driver’s license test, so I can come back to Russia and drive with an American license,” he said. “If the police stop me, I will say I’m American.”
Enrolled as a sophomore, Nazar completed his ninth year of school in Russia, and that opened up the options to go directly to college, continue at high school through 11th grade, or to spend a year as an exchange student in America. He also hopes to attend college in America.
School in Ellinwood is, pleasantly, a lot different compared to Russia, he said. The school he attended back home has over 1,500 students enrolled, uniforms are mandatory, and a tremendous amount of emphasis is put on test preparation, first for the ninth grade final, and later for the 11th grade final.
There is little opportunity to cheat, as students must report to a different school for the exams.
“They give you five sheets of paper, and they give you three hours to do it, and it’s really hard,” he said. “They have a camera that watches you, and you can’t turn your head to look somewhere, or drink water, and if you want to go to the restroom, a teacher from the other school takes you, so they make sure you can’t cheat or something.”
But then, Nazar is a magician.
“Magic helped me to cheat on ninth grade,” he said. But sharing more than that would be breaking the cardinal rule of magic.
Tricks for treats
Magic is a really big part of his life. He’s been practicing magic for about four years now, he said. Right from the start, it’s been a key that has unlocked an all around better experience for him. Card tricks appear to be his area of expertise, and he says he never leaves home without them.
“I have about 80 decks of playing cards,” he said. “I have it everywhere, in my kitchen, bathroom, my bedroom, everywhere. And in every jeans and every coat. So I can go to somewhere, and know that playing cards will always be with me.”
He is always ready to put on a show, and can also perform slights of hand.
We asked him how he got started, and it turns out that it was all because of a YouTube video. He saw a cool trick, and followed the link to the tutorial for that magic trick, and learned how to do it in about five minutes. That was just the initial learning though. He spent a lot of time practicing.
“The next day when I went to school, I showed this magic trick in the lunchroom to the seniors, and they were amazed, like really confused of how I did it, so they started to ask me how I did it, but I knew I could not tell the secrets and I couldn’t reveal it,” he said. “They started to buy me food for showing magic. They said, “okay, we’ll buy you food, some pop, some snacks, but you need to show us magic.”
He agreed, and he began adding to his arsenal of tricks. He grew to like the feeling he got when he would show his tricks and people didn’t know how he did it. The one passion fed the other, and he continued to get better and better.
He began to be known locally as a musician, and that led to some paid gigs.
Growing his platform
Soon, he began receiving offers to perform at parties, some as far away as Moscow, about a 670 mile drive to the north.
“People from St. Petersburg and from Moscow and other towns can invite me to do magic at their parties. They pay for tickets for the plane, for my hotel and pay for my expenses,” they said. “In my town, I have some communities that organize weddings and birthday parties, and invite magicians like me and my friend and pay us.”
He has given lectures at conventions for magicians, and has competed in championships, which has helped propel him more and more into the spotlight of the magic community in Europe.
In 2015, he was in Italy. Every three years, he explained, there is a five days long competition that attracts thousands of magicians. There are hundreds of lectures, magic shows, dinners, championships for different magic categories, like cards, stage magic, mentalism, and other types, and there was some very good magicians. At that convention, he managed to catch the eye of a few very well-known magicians.
“I started to show magic that I created, and I impressed them enough that they rewarded me,” he said. “We know each other now, and I have their cell phone numbers, and I hope to do that after school.”
Shooting for the stars
One thing Nazar dreams of doing is appearing on America’s Got Talent. And if producers of the show are true to their word, it may just happen.
“I sent them a request, and they responded that they already had enough participants but they really liked my portfolio, so I need to try next year,” he said. What it would mean to him is the chance to be known better in America.
“In Russia, every magician can know me because it’s a close community,” he said. “If you are a magician, you will probably know me because I’ve done some lectures at some conventions.”
Those conventions include an international magic convention drawing from St. Petersburg and Moscow, where a few thousand magicians from around the country attended to compete in championships and hear lectures and watch magic shows. Last year, in 2015, he won second place in one, and earlier, in 2016, he won both second place and first place in competition.
Ultimately, Nazar and his friends would like to start their own touring magic production, like the world renown the Illusionists. That, he said, may take $200,000 to get off the ground. In the meantime, he plans to continue working at it and saving his money.
While Nazar and other magicians make their tricks appear easy, it isn’t, he said. It takes a lot of emotional energy to pull off his performances, and it’s not unusual for him to walk away from one with his t-shirt wet from perspiration. You get so tired, you don’t have enough energy left to do anything but sleep. Especially in December, he said, because there are so many parties, sometimes five in one day, that he and his friends are kept busy throughout.
His parents were supportive of his desire to learn magic from the start.
“I needed some magic supplies, some cards and stuff,” he said. “I asked my father for some, and he got them, and I impressed my parents and they liked it.
“Maybe the most cool thing for them is they don’t need to give me pocket money because I earn it by myself.”
With only a little less than half the school year left, Nazar said he will be visiting some of America’s larger cities, like New York and perhaps Las Vegas, where he says he has some magician friends. We asked him what his impression is of his American audience compared to the Russians he normally performs for.
“Here, people are more open,” he said. “If you come to Russia and you want to show some magic trick, people first think you might try to steal something from then. Then, their second thought is you will want them to pay money to you. You have to assure them that it is free and you aren’t going to steal something, and you just want to show them a magic trick. After this, they will watch. Here, you just take a deck and start to show.”
(You can find several videos of Nazar performing magic and interviews in his native language on YouTube, like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ege64DehW94 )