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Makeup not just for clowns

Annette Padyk | Interrobang | Lifestyles | February 9th, 2009



“Makeup is a reflection of the character's soul. It's also a magic wand that sweeps away inhibitions.”
—Nathalie Gagné


Makeup director Nathalie Gagne sure has her hands full.

As global makeup director, Gagne is responsible for over 300 circus performer's face personalities for the popular productions of Cirque du Soleil. She was born in 1963 in lower region of Quebec and has had a passion for makeup since she was a teen. She studied theatre production, then moved on to being one of the first graduates of the Montreal subsidiary of the famed Paris-based make-up school, École Christian Chauveau.

Makeup accounts for a large part of each Cirque du Soleil performer's costume, which is why it has always been a huge part of the circus. It can take six months to develop the look for a new production and Gagne believes it's very important to work closely with the costume designers to pull a look together.

Gagne involves the acrobat performers in the actual creation for their onstage looks. “Unlike actors, acrobats aren't used to studying their own faces,” Gagne has been quoted as saying. “One of my goals is to get them to do just that, and help them find within themselves what I call ‘lines of force' that will serve to build their characters.”. She writes a step-by-step application guide for each athlete or performer, which is challenging due to the diversity of the circus' acts. She has to create waterproof, no-smudge, no fade make-up for underwater productions, while final concepts for any given show accumulates from over 2,000 sketches.

According to Gagne, the best advice she was given was from French fashion designer Thierry Mugler, who told her, “even though makeup is exaggerated, it has to look sophisticated.”

Currently, Gagne is busy working away on Cirque du Soleil's newest collaboration Criss Angel Believe.

The mother of two, credits Tim Burton's movie's The Nightmare Before Christmas characters as inspiration to her, especially for her latest collaboration.

Nathalie is a huge fan of M.A.C and loves all their products from their Liquidlast colour liners, foundations, Blacksplash mascara to their eye make-up remover. As important it is on how to put the makeup on, Gagne believes it is her job as well to tell them how to take it off. She teaches the performers a five-step regimen of removing, cleansing gel or cream, washes and moisturising.

With people like Gagne in the theatrical business, it helps bring the art of imagination alive.
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