Concentrating on my breathing, I tried to focus as one of my tour guides described a fire ring submerged underwater. My exhaled bubbles of air competed with the sound of his voice as he spoke through a mask.
Looking at the gauge attached to my vest, I could see the needle hadn’t budged much. I was feeling overwhelmed, but knew this was not the time to panic. When Marcus finished explaining the fire ring, I looked at my dive buddy, who asked me through hand signals if I understood, if all was OK. Signaling back “OK,” we swam on.
This isn’t a dive off a submerged volcano in Indonesia. I’m 20 feet below water on the Las Vegas Strip, backstage at “Le Rêve — The Dream” at Wynn Las Vegas. The acrobatic show is performed in what my dive buddy, Tim Wetzel, described as an aqua theater. The show is in the round — the audience surrounds the stage to witness death-defying high dives and acrobatics.
Table service, box seats, VIP treatment — Vegas offers many heightened experiences for show-goers. Only “Le Rêve,” however, offers a way to watch the show in another element — in water infused with bubbles, a kind of carbonated backstage access.
Tim and I spent a good two hours the morning of the show in the stage — most of it diving — giving me a chance to not only feel comfortable and relaxed, but to explore “Le Rêve’s” underworld.
As I entered the stage for the first time through a tunnel, I marveled at the complexities before me. Never having dived a wreck before, I wondered if this is what it feels like. Instead of a barren pool, I found a park bench, fishing nets, a giant tree and obstacles that promised to ensnare me if I acted carelessly.
Wetzel, who is also the assistant head of aquatics for “Le Rêve,” swam with me around the stage, testing my ability to switch breathing lines to one of many dangling along the edges of the stage. Later, he explained this would allow the supply of air I carried on my back to last throughout the 90-minute performance. During the show, I would see performers using the same air lines as they waited to enter the stage.
At one point, we went under in search of a tiny gem Tim had spotted earlier. Here I was, 20 feet below the water’s surface, hunting for treasure on the Las Vegas Strip.
The gem was gone — likely collected by the snake-looking apparatus sitting off to the side — but Tim promised more once the performers hit the water.
The morning dive over, I left the 90-degree Fahrenheit water and arranged to meet Tim about an hour before showtime outside the theater.
That evening, I returned to my private room backstage where my wetsuit and booties — both provided by Wynn for the dive — waited for me.
I wiggled back into my wetsuit and slipped on my booties. I stepped into the hall where Matt, the stage manager, zipped up the back of my suit.
Walking me to the stage, we made small talk, me remarking on the costumes hanging on racks that lined the hall. Having just seen the show a few nights before from the VIP section where I was offered champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries (part of the Diver’s Dream experience), I quickly spotted my favorites.
Next to one of the stage’s three entrances (picture a clock with its hands at 4, 8 and 12 o’clock), more than a dozen scuba divers in full-length, black wetsuits assembled as another briefed them on who the main performers were that night, what acts had been cut and who was doing the night’s grand high-dive.
Stepping into the water for the second time that day, I was even less sure of what I would encounter during this dive. Despite my inner calm left over from the morning dive, I was jonesing to get back into the water, to explore this netherworld filled with REM-inspired characters. As the lights went out backstage, I could hear the chatter of the audience as they filtered in to take their seats. A couple of the divers came up to me, offering fist bumps and high fives, their excitement at having a guest diver seconded only by my own to dive “Le Rêve” — a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Within minutes, we were swimming through the tunnel, breaking off to get into position.
It was show time.
Through the water, I could hear music — duller and quieter than the other night. Watching the dancers perform on the stage above water, I felt a sudden kinship to fish, certain the fluid movement is how a goldfish must perceive any one of us.
I quickly learned to pay attention to the voice coming through on a speaker system only those of us hidden underwater could hear. Cues would be given before a high diver or swimmer entered the water and then — whoosh! — they would be in the water. Seconds later, another whoosh, and another high diver quickly assisted by a scuba diver offering an air line.
A pinnacle of the show is a gasp-inducing high dive, performed the night of my dive by Marek. Having heard a “dream diver” was observing, Marek made his dive from the top of the theater and promptly sank to the bottom of the pool, kicked back, his hands behind his head as though he was lounging on a beach. Show-off.
Chuckling through my mask, I almost choke on the drops of water that made it past my regulator from what is now a permasmile.
The whole time Tim is with me, strategically looking for the best place for me to view the show. We change locations several times, and he makes sure I know where to look so I don’t miss any of the spectacle.
For the uninitiated, “Le Rêve” seen through the lens of a face mask is chaotic. At times, I didn’t know which way to turn as performers entered the water on either side of me. Tucked beneath a ledge, I inched my head back as the muscular leg of one of the performers dangled precariously close as he waited for his cue to exit the water. Other times, I watched in awe as one of the scuba divers swam past me carrying under him a motionless performer being moved to about a foot from where they would enter the theater.
I watched from below as the synchronized swimmers performed a dance the audience above sees as high-heeled red shoes kicking and twirling, as one of the female acrobats wearing high boots — like a sexy pirate — breathed from an air line as she waited for her fishnet ball to be lifted into the theater. I stepped back when I heard an announcement of boiling water being released. I crawled on the lower tier of the wedding cake-esque stage as performers danced just feet above me and away from me.
Then, in a flash, it was over. What was 87 minutes of performance felt like 20 minutes. I heard the muffled roar of applause. The performers made their way back to land and the scuba diving team assembled underwater for a group photo with me.
After being coaxed out of the water stage — where I would have happily remained the rest of my days — my response to anyone who asked how my experience was a simple, but truthful, “amazing.”
I dived the dream.