Grease is the time, the place, the motion

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Back in 1978 when Grease was the word, I was on a school tour bussing our way around Tasmania. Grease the movie had just come out and like everyone else in the day we were obsessed with it, in particular, the music, featuring our very own Olivia Newton-John as Sandy. The soundtrack went into the bus cassette player and stayed there on repeat for 10 days. Imagine how traumatised that poor bus driver would have been by the end of our tour, probably his last.

Earlier this month, we saw Grease the stage production at Marina Bay Sands here in Singapore, and it was sensational. I did not realise it at the time but Gretel Scarlett who plays Sandy is from our hometown of Rockhampton!

Grease is of course now officially iconic – 36 years on and grease is still the word with sold-out audiences the world-over. In the USA, Grease (the movie) is still the #1 highest-grossing musical of all time. Interestingly, the sequel with a different cast was a flop which probably surprised everyone given the immense success of the original but it is a lesson we see often whether it is movies or books. The temptation to repeat phenomenal success with a sequel is understandable and it is often only with hindsight that it becomes clear that the original cannot be duplicated because its unique elements combined ie actors, story, production, music equalled the magic formula that everyone hopes to find but most simply stumble upon it.

The other difficulty for sequels is that they are inherently burdened with the expectation that did not weigh down the first in a series. More often than not, they do not measure up and rarely do they exceed the first. The Matrix sequels, especially the third instalment, in my opinion, had a difficult mountain to climb after the first movie which was an original concept with a plot that left you wondering about reality.

The sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary suffered a similar fate and is a perfect example of producers wishing to ‘bottle’ the magical formula they stumbled upon to feed it back to the audience for a similar outcome. However, the fine balance of success elements in the first Bridget Jones movie were over-delivered in the second turning the cleverness into silliness and the relatable into contrived according to critics. I still enjoyed it but not nearly as much as the first.

The magic that is success is after all a formula – that means each element has to be added in precise parts; the slightest bit too much of one and/or not enough of another creates an altogether different proposition which won’t necessarily appeal to the audience that loved the first. Many claim to know the secret formula to success yet no matter what industry you view, even the most successful stumble along the way proving it’s still very much a guessing game, some are just better guessers.

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Life in the Tropics

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We’re celebrating, again, still. Today marks 10 years since we left our home in Sydney, Australia to live overseas for what was meant to be a two-year assignment. We never left, and in 2011 we were granted Permanent Residency – not an easy task I assure you; rejection being more common than acceptance.

It is hard to comprehend that a decade has passed. This is the longest we have now spent in any one place including our hometown of Rockhampton post-marriage. We could not have imagined then that we would be living permanently and happily in Asia although it was clear for some time, to us at least, that we were not going to have children and settle forever in our hometown as our siblings had done.  We had been ready to go for sometime, keen to discover what else was out there and what kind of lifestyles and memories were creatable. When at last the opportunity presented (a move to Melbourne) nothing stood in our way – not even a home we had designed and constructed and lived in for a mere 13 days but who cares about a house when the world is waiting.

As you know, I love Singapore. I love everything about Singapore. I love what lies just outside our front door like Gardens by the BayMarina Bay Sands, restaurants galore, shops, museums. I love that Steve spends seven minutes walking to work saving hours of his life out of traffic and coming home for lunch. I love Saturday mornings in Orchard Road and even though we have been going there for ten years at least once a week, we never tire of it.

Other things I love about Singapore:

  • the weather – summer all year round!

  • I love rain – it rains here 286 days a year but it is warm. Cold weather plus rain is not so good.

  • there is lush greenery and gardens everywhere.

  • it’s neat and tidy.

  • it takes us a mere 15 mins to get to all the best shows, bands and acts the world has to offer then home again in the same time.

  • there’s peace and harmony amongst multiple races, religions and nationalities. We all celebrate the religious holidays of all other major religions (Christian, Hindu, Buddhism etc).

  • people are civilized and respectful.

  • it’s safe – you can go out any time night and day without fear. The worst thing that can happen to you is that you’ll end up buying something.

  • it’s easy, inexpensive and super-fast to get anywhere you want on a clean, safe and graffiti-free ever-expanding MRT system.

  • there’s a brilliant system for queuing, including queues for queues, and queue officials. Queue jumpers are dealt with appropriately.

  • shops are open from 10am until 10pm – midnight some nights – and also open Christmas Day so no more panic shopping Christmas Eve.

  • it’s a city that never sleeps – life is always ‘happening’. People have supper at our local hawker centres (Satays by the Bay and Lau Pa Sat) at 2am so you’re never hungry.

  • it has the fastest, most efficient airport arrival/departure processing in the world. I can disembark a flight and be in a taxi within 7 minutes, which is a blessing after a long flight.

  • it’s a foodies paradise – so many choices though it is sometimes hard to decide.

  • it’s constantly changing – nothing stays the same. There is always something new to see or do.

  • it’s stunningly beautiful.

I don’t know when this particular journey will end or what is next but I do know that when we’re 90+ and reflecting on life, we’ll remember this decade with gratitude and happiness.

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Rainy days and Mondays

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In just a few weeks, we will celebrate 10 years living in Singapore. When we left Sydney in 2004 for a 2-year assignment we never expected to still be here a decade later. It is not the same place today as it was then but at every stage, I have loved it. Today, it is, if I might quote Ryan Tedder from One Republic, “the most badass futuristic city in the world.” I don’t think there is any other country anywhere that has the capability to redefine and expand itself at the rate Singapore does almost on a daily basis. A part of this is because Singapore is a city/country so there is only one level of government that has a clear mandate for progress and change.

Singapore is everything you can imagine and it is all at your fingertips in a click. We love to see bands and the best of them come through here. It takes us a mere 15 minutes from our condo to sitting in our seats at the stadium (drinks in hand) then home again in the same time. And it costs us less than SG$5 to get there and back. I believe this is quite miraculous in a country of 5.5 million people and it says a great deal about Singapore’s efficiencies, planning and transportation. Singapore is hassle-free.

Then there is the beauty that is within minutes of our condo including the divine Gardens by the Bay which is our evening walk. It’s an extraordinary place, and although it’s a regular for us, we never tire of spotting something new and beautiful that has sprung forth in abundance since the last rains. And walking through the gardens during or after rain is even better, and since it rains 265 days each year here, that’s my idea of paradise on earth.

I’ve often declared my love for rain and rainy days (I even called my first novel, Rain) which I’ve since learned makes me a pluviophile ie a ‘lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days’. I am happy to own it but it started me wondering why I do love rain so much and why waking up to a rainy morning even on a Monday brings instant joy. I really don’t know why – I can find no explanation other than perhaps in a past life I lived somewhere desolate.

I also love rain because of what it does – it makes everything green and clean and these are two aspects I love about Singapore. In February, we experienced the driest month since 1859 and I found it quite distressing to see trees and plants wilting and expansive brown everywhere. Every day I implored the perpetually blue sky to turn black. The spring monsoon did finally arrive and almost instantly everything is green again.

There is however one caveat and that is I love rain so long as it is not cold; tropical rains only please. If I lived in a cold climate, rain might lose some of its beauty even in my eyes but then it wouldn’t be rain; it would be snow.

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Pavlov Says Jump

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Next week we’ll be into March. That means a whopping 17% of the year is now history and I didn’t even notice it passing. This is completely contrary to my grand plan to turn off auto-pilot and engage with life on a daily basis. I want to be conscious of the beauty of life that is everywhere, conscious of how I devote my thoughts and time, and to look at people I pass in the street like they hold a greater value than mere stranger.

I’m good at planning – it is one of my strengths and one of life’s joys. There’s not a lot that gets me more excited than a new plan which joy sadly is not shared in our household. Clearly though execution is still a problem or is there something else I can legitimately blame for having failed to put the grand plan into place with March on approach?

I think so, and his name is Pavlov and he had some dogs. Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate every time he rang a bell. The bell meant food. And while most psychologists would suggest this same type of conditioning in humans would be akin to hypnotism, I would argue that this means a lot of us do therefore spend every day in a hypnotic state.

During a ‘normal’ day, we are unaware of our conditioned responses to every stimulus. For example, the alarm clock in the morning sets off a series of rituals that then continue with different stimuli throughout the day. Most workers don’t have lunch when they are hungry but when the clock tells them it is the designated lunch hour and time to eat. They will however most likely be hungry at this time because of conditioning – at that time there will be food, just like Pavlov’s dogs. Employers may as well just ring a bell.

Not only are we unaware of what we’re doing during the day, most likely we’re thinking of something entirely unrelated while undertaking the actions – sounds like a hypnotic state. The series of rituals we develop for our day aim to generate the most reward and that reward is to make the day run as smoothly as possible eg the setting of an alarm clock for a particular time. It is however all subject to spanners in the works which cause turmoil because we are not conditioned to their presence nor conditioned for the response.

So, the reason I have not yet implemented my grand plan for 2014 is because I am conditioned to live unconsciously even when I desire to live consciously. It’s not my fault at all. It’s 1:30pm. Time for lunch.

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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The trouble with leigh is…

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My name, Leigh, means meadow, which is a curious meaning to apply to a person although I do like the outdoors. Leigh and Lee are the same and traditionally, Leigh was for boys and Lee was for girls, but that does not seem to apply anymore, and obviously, I have the boy’s spelling and I am not.

I have never thought much about my name—it’s not an unusual name, and it is recognizable in the west, but in Singapore, it presents some problems. The locals have no idea how to pronounce ‘Leigh’ and I am usually called Leg, Lay or Layj, and other interesting creations. My solution to this problem was to switch to the other spelling of my name, Lee, which I figured would be easy for the locals as Lee is a common Chinese surname. This however, was a mistake.

In Asia, a person’s surname appears first so when I switched to Lee Cunningham, it was assumed that Lee was my surname and Cunningham was my first name. Asians also tend to have two first names, for example, Kong Weng or Wei Peng so my ‘first’ name(s) became Cunning Ham. I was therefore welcomed or introduced as “Cunning” or “Ham” for example, “Good morning, Cunning,” or “Hello, Ham”. At one place, I devoted considerable time patiently and clearly (with slow, clear diction) explaining that Cunning was not my name; my name was Lee, but the next time I visited, I was once again welcomed as Cunning.

I have reluctantly reverted to Leigh and now accept whatever pronunciation it inspires with a silent D’oh!

Back when I was employable and working as an executive, people would call and ask to speak to “Mr Cunningham”.  My secretary delighted in never correcting the caller so when I answered the phone with “Leigh Cunningham speaking,” they would again ask for “Mr Cunningham”. When I  repeated that I was Leigh Cunningham, this was often greeted with silence then “You’re a girl,” to which I would think, ‘well thanks for letting me know.’

My middle name is Kayrene, a name my mother created by combining her nickname and my aunt’s name ie Kay (officially Catherine) plus Irene = Kayrene.

I have several nicknames. My childhood name, still used by Steve, family and friends, is Leighzie. Steve has several other nicknames for me, but mostly he calls me Leo, which originates from The Paul Hogan Show. Leo Wanker was an inept daredevil stuntman (see Leo in action), and I have no idea how Leo the stuntman became associated with my good self—you would have to ask Steve regarding the commonalities he obviously sees.

Steve also calls me Baldrick or Balders for short. This originates from a British sitcom series, Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder and Tony Robinson as his dogsbody, Baldrick. Since I am now a fulltime writer, and unemployable :), Baldrick/Balders reflects my current station in life. I don’t believe there are any other similarities between myself and the ‘real’ Baldrick, although we do make Cappuccinos the same way.

Basically though, given the aborted efforts at my real first name, I will answer to just about anything.

Do you have a problem name? Do you blame your parents?

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Pedestrian etiquette

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I love living in Singapore, as everyone knows, and have practically nothing to complain about, except for one major gripe—pedestrian etiquette. Since I do not have a car (I don’t need one plus they are horrendously expensive here), this affects me every day. There is no pedestrian etiquette in Singapore, as there is in Australia, and in case you are not familiar with the protocol, I’ll explain.

Sidewalks, or footpaths as we call them in Australia, are generally wide enough for two people to pass comfortably. If you are walking two or three abreast, pedestrian etiquette requires one or two members of your party to assume a single file during a passing maneuver ie while you are overtaking or when a pedestrian is on approach from the opposite direction. This is common courtesy, and in Australia, this is observed along with the customary cheery greeting to the passer-by. In Australia, Queensland in particular, if you approach someone on the street while out walking, a hello is expected, stranger or not.

In Singapore, the natural citizens ie the non-expatriates, walk two, three or four abreast and never make way for someone coming in the opposite direction. They will drive you into the terrain either side of the sidewalk or if you do decide to maintain your rightful position, striding on your fair share of the concrete, someone will walk into you rather than surrender. Similarly, they will stand in the middle of the footpath, or aisle at the supermarket, and chat away on their phones, completely oblivious or uncaring that others are trying to pass.

Understanding this behavior is a conundrum. Generally, Singaporeans are non-aggressive, polite individuals, who know and understand the importance of rules and procedures, for example, proper queue etiquette. There are queues to join a queue and there are queue officials who ensure proper order and conduct is observed at all times. Queue jumpers do not survive. I would therefore expect Singaporeans to similarly appreciate the importance of sidewalk etiquette.

It might be explained by kiasu, which is a fear to lose out to others, and always wanting the upper hand. Kiasu, and it’s partner, kiasi (fear of death) are widely used terms in the local vocabulary. As an example, “Look at him so kiasu pushing people away to get a seat on the bus first.”

If the government painted the sidewalk with a dotted line up the middle, there is a very good chance that behaviors would change since Singaporeans are conditioned to obey such ordinances, like those related to spitting, chewing gum, jaywalking etc. Is this the only solution? Must I write to the government to report this blemish on an otherwise almost-perfect society?

What is the status of pedestrian etiquette in your hometown? How should one deal with poor pedestrian etiquette, in a lawful way?

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Miami without the vice

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I’m just back from a quick trip halfway around the world to Miami, Florida to attend and present at the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards ceremony and accompanying events. Thank you to James Ventrillo and Debra Gaynor for their kind invitation! Debra also presented me with the gold medal won for Being Anti-Social at the 2012 awards program (Chick Lit category).

Although it was a long trip, it was well worth it and I came away having met some wonderful people and new friends including Dete Meserve, gold medalist for The Good Sam (coming soon) and President, Wind Dancer Films, and Eriq La Salle of ER fame (Dr Peter Benton) however his creative genius also extends to writing—check out Laws of Depravity, gold medalist, and Laws of Wrath coming soon. And to balance all the authors on the panel, we had Mark Wayne Adams renowned for his picture book illustrations. I’ve posted photos on my Facebook page.

For a lot of people, Miami means Don Johnson in his white suits fighting crime in Miami Vice, which is obviously not very practical. For whatever reason, I didn’t watch the show during its heyday, 1984-1989 and I’m not sure why—possibly too busy with sport and fitness at that time. Another show we don’t watch is CSI Miami—those opening ‘poignant’ remarks from Horatio, with sunglasses poised in anticipation, weren’t.

For me, an absolute must in visiting Miami was the art deco district near South Beach. This is the largest concentration of art deco buildings in the world. Birdcage, a fantastic movie with Robin Williams, Gene Hackman and Nathan Lane was filmed at The Carlyle Hotel on Ocean Drive. This is one of my favourite scenes with Robin Williams.

On my first day in Miami, I set out for the Miami Book Fair International with no appreciation of how far it was from our hotel—we walk everywhere in Singapore so I was ready for the trek for the sights along the way. In the end, a bus came along headed in the right direction (and no taxis in sight) so I jumped on. It didn’t matter where I ended up; I had a map which is pretty useless if you have no sense of direction. In the end, the bus stopped right in front of the book fair. My only regret, once again, was that we only did one level of Spanish back in 1997. Being able to count to 10, hola, buenos días, buenas noches, gracias and adiós only get you so far.

Thanks to my trip to Miami, I’ve also now had Key Lime Pie at its point of origin (although I did not make it all the way to Key West) and this of course is an important aspect of my travels.

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Remember when you were young…

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‘Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun’—this is one of my favourite lines from Shine On You Crazy Diamond (yes there are lyrics eventually) which is one of my all-time favourite Pink Floyd songs.I remember one Christmas when we were young, my three brothers and I received a record player together with our first album—The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour.

My aunty also had a record player. When I was about eight years old, I remember playing one of her 45s (‘a single’) over and over again. It was I am a Rock by Simon & Garfunkel, the lyrics for which are still in my head today. It is a song about being alone—“I am a rock; I am an island. And the rock feels no pain, and an island never dies”—perhaps I was always destined to write a book titled, Being Anti-Social.

When I think of it, music played quite a part in those formative years even though we didn’t have portable music players in the 60s-70s. When we went up north to my grandparent’s hotel/motel in Mirriwinni for school holidays, we would listen to the songs on the jukebox in the lounge area, and play on grandma’s white piano. I wonder if the hotel patrons thought those two kids (my younger brother, Mark and I) thrashing away on the piano keys were a nuisance—certainly I would have thought so.

For my sixteenth birthday I received a ‘cassette’, The Best of Carly Simonwhich I still love today. I recently purchased it again as a CD. It’s amazing how music can make you feel exactly how you felt when you first listened to it. Other music obsessions in my early teens were SherbertSplit EnzPeter Frampton (he still looks and sounds incredible), Cat Stevens and Bread. Bread helped me through my first broken heart in 1979 … actually I think they made it worse.  In my teens, I had one crush I recall—I was pretty sure I was going to marry Darryl Braithwaite. I didn’t have bands or singers posted on my bedroom walls (like my best friend whose walls were covered with The Bay City Rollers). Instead there were posters with messages like, “Don’t drift through life, sail through.”

In those days, bands just played—there was no need for elaborate, semi-pornographical videos (is that really what’s required to sell a CD these days? Lucky I’m a writer not a singer) with artists trying to outdo each other. And there was not the level of angst we hear in Hip Hop and Rap, in my opinion, but then my grandmother, who loved Perry Como, Vera Lynn and the Barbershop Quartet, felt the same way about our music.

Remember when you were young?

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Three decades on

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On 17 September, we celebrated 30 years of marriage. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect on our wedding day and who we were as people just barely into our twenties. What did we believe about marriage and our future together when we made that declaration to stay together forever no matter what?Prior to our wedding day, we had to undergo a compulsory course with the priest which included a questionnaire we had to complete separately then the answers were compared—questions like, who will take out the garbage, who will buy the groceries, how many children will you have, who will wash the car etc. It was clearly a process of establishing expectations to see if there were any glaring anomalies. From memory, we answered every question the same. The questionnaire and the priest declared us completely compatible and it seems they were right. 🙂 Of course, it was the early 80s. We both lived at home until we married and both came to the table with the same ideas of what the father did and what the mother did based on our upbringing. There was no trailblazing to be done here, except perhaps on the question of children. We had never discussed children; we barely discussed getting married except to say it seemed like a good idea. But we both answered ‘no children’ at a time when having children within two years of marriage was the norm and expected. The subject was not discussed again.We nominated our most prominent wedding memories. For me, it was Steve saying, ‘With this wing…’ which made it impossible for the wedding party to continue to behave with maturity and dignity from that point. For Steve, his primary memory was that I was late. By a mere 10 minutes mind you but he felt it was a sign of things to come—obviously not as I am very punctual. Our other memory was of arriving at the Rockhampton Golf Club where our wedding reception was being held. We were kept waiting outside for our grand entrance because our guests, who were enjoying pre-reception drinks (at our expense) on the putting green while the sun set, didn’t want to leave, not even for us. They were eventually ‘encouraged’ upstairs but took their time about it with no sense of urgency—possibly the worst wedding guests ever. :)Some friends asked if we were going to renew our vows to commemorate the occasion. I do not understand why people do this—vows don’t expire—you make them ‘forever’. It would be different if your vows were, “… for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until 2013.” I still believe in forever.

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

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Aside
We’ve just returned from a holiday in Russia which, yes, was wonderful. And a bonus I was not expecting, although I should have since it was summer—the midnight sun or ‘white lights’ as they call it in St Petersburg. This resulted in many late nights out celebrating life with our friends as it always seemed too early for bed.There are a few cultural aspects of Russia that would be known to most people, I would think. For example, Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest composers of all time, was Russian. He composed the music for the Russian ballet, Swan Lake, which may well be the only ballet storyline known to many of us. Likewise, Tchaikovsky’s score is easily recognizable even if you do not know him as the composer or the origins of the music, especially since Black Swan.

Some of the world’s greatest names in ballet are Russian, for example, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Anna Pavlova. Again, they are known the world over even by those who know nothing at all about ballet (although I remember Baryshnikov primarily because of his defection to Canada in 1974).

Australia’s national dessert, the Pavlova, was created and named after Anna Pavlova in the 1920s following her tour of the antipodes. The Kiwis (New Zealanders) try to call it their own, but it’s as Australian as vegemite and lamingtons. Sometimes we’ll add Kiwi Fruit to the top of our pavlovas to keep the New Zealanders happy.

I had previously seen Swan Lake in Sydney some years ago but it was a parody by The Trocaderos, “The Trocks” or long title, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo, a company of professional male dancers who make ballet humorous by exaggerating the fundamentals and seriousness of it to the point of comedy. The dying swan scene is memorable and I worried that I would never be able to enjoy the ‘real’ Swan Lake after The Trocks. Here’s the ‘real’ dying swan scene, which is beautifully poignant, and The Trocks’ version. Incidentally, the dying swan was considered the signature dance of Anna Pavlova.

It was only fitting that while in St Petersburg, we attended a production of Swan Lake at the Grand Palace Theatre. There are several possible endings to Swan Lake including the crowd-pleasing happy ending where Siegfried and Odette’s true love defeats Von Rothbart, and Odette is restored to human form. One of the more tragic endings is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet ie Odette commits suicide, the Prince discovers her lifeless body and does so as well but Odette isn’t actually dead. We were lucky enough to enjoy the happy ending in St Petersburg which gave further cause for an evening of celebration, as if one was needed.

Regards
Leigh

Contact Leigh at:

Website: http://www.leighkcunningham.com

Email: leigh @ leighkcunningham.com

Twitter: @leighcunningham

Facebook: Leigh K Cunningham

Grand Palace Theatre, St Petersburg theatre_3 theatre_1 blog ballet_2 blog ballet_1

The swans of St Petersburg