Jakarta. Indonesian illusionist The Sacred Riana, who has recently won the second season of Asia's Got Talent, does not talk much, but her voice sends chills down the spines of those who see her performing in a boarding school-style dress, with hair covering most of her face, always holding her doll Riani.
Off stage she is the same. Her manager Bow Vernon from Trilogy Magic Factory did most of the talking when Riana met with reporters at the Sentral Senayan III Building in South Jakarta on Tuesday (19/12).
Bow and the company invented the "sacred" 190-year-old Riana, whose real name is Marie Antoinette Riana Graharani.
The character first appeared in 2013, in "The Next Mentalist," a talent show hosted by prominent illusionist Deddy Corbuzier.
Riana had already performed performed tricks before she joined Trilogy Magic Factory. According to Bow, they were already dark, because of Riana's own interests.
"Riana loves things related horror and mysticism. We developed that interest into a form of entertainment that's scary but still amusing," said Bow, who is also a magician and used to be Deddy's assistant.
Playing the character is not a difficult thing for Riana, not only because of her interests, but also her detached disposition.
"She's quiet and a bit shy. She doesn't like to talk. Even during team meetings, she only responds to several people," Bow said.
This consistency has wowed the judges of Asia's Got Talent. Composer David Foster came to Bow to tell him he was amazed by how Riana kept her stage persona.
Bow said that while Riana did not mind posing for photos with other contestants, she did not really interact with anyone. He was therefore surprised when she befriended Taiwanese ukulele child prodigy Feng E.
"It was the first time I saw her befriending someone. Riana likes drawing, so she drew Feng E and told me to give the portrait to him," he said.
Many complained on social media that having won the show and $100,000, Riana showed no emotions and did not say anything.
"But real fans of Riana understand that that's the way she is," Bow said.
Between Fact and Fiction
During her performances Riana draws from stories that in some cultures are considered sacred narratives — the word "sacred" in her stage name arrived herefrom.
Bow calls Riana a "bizarre illusionist," meaning a magician who incorporates dark storytelling into tricks.
At Asia's Got Talent she performed classical stunts: entering a box and emerging somewhere else, making tattoos appear on the hand of singer Anggun — the judge who was the most scared of Riana — making zombies come out of empty boxes, and inserting herself into a Polaroid photo she was not originally in.
Riana knows how to frighten the audience by summoning the dead with Latin and Javanese spells.
When she said "yen siro teko, wenehene tondo" ("if you are here, give a sign"), an Ouija board moved without being touched.
Bow claimed that although all other parts of the performance were tricks, the telekinesis part was real and this ability of Riana was discovered when she was around 15 years old.
"She really has telekinetic powers. She's had it before and she trained herself further," he said.
Another mystery surrounds her beloved doll, Riani. When Riana moved to Jakarta as a kid, she found the doll in her new house.
Bow and the rest of the team say the doll's presence is important in Riana's life, to the point she often answers questions using "we" to speak on behalf of herself and Riani.
He said she is very unhappy when she has to be separated from the doll, or when Riani is not part of her performance. Once an interviewer asked Riana what she liked to do in her free time, and Riana answered "playing with Riani." Bow said he is not sure what "playing" really means.
Riana is still an enigma to her audience, and this is what probably attracts them most.