The spectacle of high divers plunging 80 feet from a skylight and into a million-gallon pool of water has always been a highlight of Le Rêve – The Dream, the surrealistic aquatic extravaganza that has been delighting audiences since it opened at Wynn Las Vegas in 2005. But it was another leap—the idea of taking an already successful show and overhauling it—which is making the biggest splash among the show’s many fans.
Le Rêve – The Dream is performed in a multimillion-dollar theater in-the-round, with no guest seated farther than 12 rows from the stage.
It would have been easy to rest on the laurels of the production that has, for the last seven consecutive years, been voted the “Best Production Show” in Las Vegas by the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association. But Wynn Resorts is not one to let even a wildly successful show go without re-examination. “We looked at this production after years of small tweaks here and there and realized that we had an incredible success, but it wouldn’t be our nature not to grow it and add new and exciting dimension,” says director Philip William McKinley.
That dimension, he explains, was to clarify and focus the story while adding emotional depth to the characters through not only a new score, but also new lighting, costuming, choreography and even mechanical underpinnings. Le Rêve – The Dream, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s 1932 Cubist masterpiece, told a fractured tale in a watery landscape of an enchanted Dreamer who must ultimately choose whether to embrace the light of true love or yield to the dark temptations of obsessive desire. It is a conceit as old as time, but the lengths the show’s artistic team would ultimately go to breathe new life into the production are stunning.
The reimagined Le Rêve – The Dream boasts all-new costumes, music and choreography, bringing to life the Dreamer’s surrealistic journey.
“Two years ago, we began an in-depth look at the whole production, and decided that the music needed to change,” says Rick Gray, General Manager of Entertainment Operations. “It was the one aspect of Le Rêve – The Dream that we hadn’t really changed that much. “We knew it would be a big undertaking and we’d need a new director for it. But we also knew that there were a lot of acts that people loved and that we couldn’t part with.” An acrobat’s 80-foot drop into the million-gallon tank would need to stay, as would the first act, where the Dreamer emerges to find a golden tree on which performers demonstrate their acrobatic skills. The crystal sphere that descends with three female acrobats performing a series of daring maneuvers is crucial to the show as well. Brought in from his run as director of ShowStoppers to work with Gray on the transformation, McKinley explains, “The directive was to create more of a narrative. We wanted a beginning, middle and end, but more importantly, we wanted to make sure that the music was not just a bed of sound, but that it accentuated and highlighted whatever was happening on the stage.”
After mapping out how to clarify the narrative without closing the show, the question remained: Who could score such a thing? Gray proposed the composer who knew the production best of all: Canadian composer Benoît Jutras, who, among his many accomplishments in television and film, had also been the creative director for Cirque du Soleil and the original composer of Le Rêve – The Dream.
Once Jutras had signed on and begun working on the new music (he would fly to Las Vegas 10 times within one year from his home in Barbados to present new pieces), the team set to work on changing nearly every aspect of the show. “Color tells a story just as much as music,” McKinley says. “The Dreamer wears a soft pink and she is the only one who wears that color. Whenever Dark Passion or his minions appear, they’re in red. True Love is white and is the only one who wears that silhouette.” In order to keep the focus on the three main characters, Jutras also gave each of them his or her own melody. “I really tried to follow the action of the main characters more than I would follow some big action in the scene. The acrobatic work was more like an embellishment on the story,” Jutras says.
In Le Rêve – The Dream, synchronized swimmers perform a Paso, symbolizing the Dreamer’s passage into a world of sensuality.
Staging and choreography were key to this increased focus on the protagonists. Where at one time the Dream Master, who sets in motion the Dreamer’s adventure, had sailed in from one of the theater’s portals, it was important to McKinley that he emerge from the water, which represents the dream world—and that not only the Dreamer be submerged into the dream world, but that the two men who are proposing to her enter it the same way. Even apparently small alterations like this necessitated a cascade of additional changes: lighting to reinforce the action, makeup that could stand up to multiple submersions, costumes that would reflect the exuberant spirit of the new show; and behind the scenes, everything from a new mechanical structure to lift the Dream Master from the water to new direction for the scuba divers who invisibly swim the acrobats to safety after a plunge.
All the while, Jutras would need to follow the same tempos that had been originally set to score new pieces. Where acrobats had learned their acts at a certain tempo and at lengths that were precise to a second, safety dictated that the tempos remained the same. “It’s very dangerous,” McKinley says. “It’s not like you’re asking an actor to sing a new song—they’re dropping out of the air!” McKinley likens the process to his experience having been brought in to overhaul Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway: “I was working on a new version at the same time we were performing the original. The performers were rehearsing in the afternoon with a new piece of music and performing in the evening with the old music.” To that end, Jutras compares his work on Le Rêve to his work for film. Where previously music hadn’t necessarily followed the action onstage, “I treated it more like a movie than a circus type of show, where the themes are related to emotions that are used all over the show.”
Now performed in all-new costumes, the “Sphere” routine symbolizes the Dreamer’s newfound sense of power.
The combination of costuming and meticulous changes in lighting lend Le Rêve – The Dream its sparkling new visual qualities. In the famous Sphere act, symbolizing the Dreamer’s newfound female power after having thrown over Dark Passion, the three acrobats had previously worn very simple costumes to allow them to navigate their dangerous twists and turns inside and outside a crystal sphere suspended in air. “I went to our choreographer, Marguerite Derricks, and said, ‘Look, I’d like to put them in full bodysuits covered in rhinestones,’ because I wanted them to be like the Aurora Borealis lights, and not break the line of the body. And she said, ‘Oh,’” he laughs. Another apparently simple change involved covering them in their new rhinestone costumes and then removing rhinestones from their elbows, behind their knees—anywhere they have to grab the bar and hold on. “You have to be aware that the performer is doing things that could make them fall and get seriously hurt. It’s not just throwing a costume on.” Still, at the end of every night, a bit of rhinestone gathering is done from the stones that fall, and the costume department replaces them. Meanwhile, lighting designers Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher created new lighting sequences to follow the action. “The sphere is the perfect example,” McKinley says. “With lighting, they follow that sphere and you see this ray of light and color that didn’t used to be there. Peggy and Jules figured out a way to light the performers without lighting the water. Yet you want to see the water when the girls flip their hair back, so you can see that glowing spray. It took hours and hours of meticulous work.”
Ultimately, the success of a show that has been called the absolute final version of circus demands all of these technical elements to elicit a feeling. “Do you feel the experience? Because that’s what live theater is about,” McKinley says. “It’s why we go silent before that 80-foot drop—the only moment in the entire show in which there is no music. It’s a simple formula that if you can get the audience to laugh, cry, be afraid, gasp—we’ve just experienced something together. It’s okay if three of us are watching something and we all take something different from it. We don’t need to be exact [about telling the story]. It only has to be clear.”