A crumpled ball of paper that takes on a life of its own and leads the apparently perplexed magician on a playful dance -- it's a simple but poetic and engaging scene.

Belgian magician Laurent Piron's twirling "Paper Ball" is not a spectacular showstopper, but last month it won the former street performer the title "World Magic Champion".

Now this champion has returned from the Quebec contest to his home outside Liege in eastern Belgium, ready to pull a list of global bookings out of his sleeve.

The World Championship of Magic is held once every three years, but Piron had already spent several years refining Paper Ball to recapture the story-telling skills of an earlier era.

"Many older magicians came up to me after my act to say that they had been taken back into their childhood and had forgotten the techniques," Piron told AFP.

"That's what we wanted to do with this paper ball. We don't care about the trickery -- the goal is to create magical emotion."

It's a different approach to that of a magical showman like David Copperfield, the American best known for appearing to walk through the Great Wall of China and making the Statue of Liberty vanish.

But the legendary magician was also touched by Piron's smaller-scale illusion, and when the Belgian got home there was a voicemail from Copperfield congratulating him.

"He loved it. Even though he does big shows, he is a true lover of magic. He's still the undisputed master -- he knows all the tricks," the 35-year-old said.

"But we mystified him with this act."

The son of a sound engineer, Piron grew up as a do-it-yourself hobbyist and started doing magic tricks at 18, learning basic techniques with a friend.

- Stage magic -

At 22, he left for Vancouver, Canada, and fell in with street magicians.

"The street gave me professional knowledge and a relationship with the public. If the audience doesn't like you, they go on their way," he said.

"You have to have enough energy, catchphrases, jokes, and catch the eye. The street taught me to develop my character to attract the crowd."

RTL

Belgian illusionist Laurent Piron spent time as a street performer before joining the world's magical elite / © AFP

After several years "following the sun" through Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, the magician returned to Belgium in search of a place on stage.

"I have always liked theatrical magic, a narrative that brings in visuals -- not just glitter boxes or a rabbit out of a hat -- and then I discovered 'La Magie nouvelle'," he said.

The movement's practitioners mix illusions with narrative arts, and seeks to escape the "power struggle" between the entertainer and an audience always trying to guess the tricks.

Piron underwent formal training with France's CNAC circus schools and is now a leading member of the Alogique theatre company.

He hopes the new style will promote magic from being the poor relation of the performing arts, and encourage his peers to study lighting, visual effects and narrative.

And, thanks to his award, he has pulled invitations to perform in Japan, Britain and Las Vegas out of the hat.

For his next trick, he'd like to book Broadway.