Makeup and Gypsy Jazz with Cirque du Soleil Cello Player @michaelcello
To see more photos of Michael’s work with Cirque du Soleil, check out @michaelcello on Instagram. For more music stories, head to @music.
Michael Levin (@michaelcello) has backed Katy Perry, played in a Christmas show with Andy Dick and currently is in the band for Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, which is helmed by the director of Madonna’s MDNA tour. What’s garnered him the most attention, however, is a makeup tutorial.
Filmed in time lapse, his nightly stage makeup application is mesmerizing. He lines, powders and contours with the precision of Kim Kardashian West’s makeup artist, and then caps it off with a Kim K-worthy, kissy-face selfie.
“That’s probably the most plays on any video I’ve ever posted of anything. Go figure,” the 30-year-old cellist says over the phone from Denver. “To be perfectly honest, that was the part I was least excited about in the beginning. Now, I get why girls go so crazy over it and try to find the right products. I don’t know how many types of eyeliner I went through.”
Michael didn’t quite run off and join the circus, but his trajectory is pretty close. He grew up in Arizona, the son of two concert violinists. Within two years of studying at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, however, he realized there was no way he could follow in the footsteps of his mother, who is in her 40th season with the Phoenix Symphony.
“I wanted to be in a rock band! I wanted to utilize the cello in a modern way,” he says. He gave school one more shot at Arizona State, but chucked it before the semester was even over and moved to Los Angeles.
L.A. can be crazy-making for a creative person, but Michael thrived on the uncertainty. He posted on Craigslist, handed out his card at coffee shops and wandered around Guitar Center playing the pianos and chatting with customers. He met actress Shannon Woodward in his apartment complex, and she introduced him to her best friend, Katy Perry. (“I was playing with Katy Perry before Katy Perry was!” he says).
Meanwhile, he’d also auditioned for the Cirque du Soleil database in 2009. “In order to become an artist in one of Cirque’s shows, you first have to audition online and be accepted into their database. From there, they’ll pluck their talent. It’s the largest casting department in the world. It’s like Cirque NASA,” he quips. A talent scout called him right away, but Michael was “knee deep” in bands and told them it just wasn’t a good time for him.
A year and a half ago, though, his schedule freed up and he signed a two-year contract to play the “gypsy jazz, electro swing” music of Kurios. Set in 1900s Paris, Cirque’s 30th anniversary show has a steampunk aesthetic and takes place under a massive big top. It’s a city that has to be moved on the wheels of 65 semi-trucks.
Barring another circus beckoning him, soon he’ll have the option to re-sign.
“I imagine I’ll stay for a while. The show will go for 10 to 15 years,” he says. “I’ve always been a very nomadic person. It’s a great way to see the world.”
Besides, he continues, “I’m good at doing my makeup now.”