SINGAPORE: It was a belated birthday bash for Singapore, but despite fewer live performers due to COVID-19, National Day Parade 2021 served up a visual feast for spectators and those watching from home.
After being postponed for the first time due to pandemic restrictions, the parade finally made it to the stage at The Float @ Marina Bay on Saturday (Aug 21).
Months of anticipation culminated in an explosion of energy from 600 live performers, despite sparsely populated grandstands with spectators limited to 1,000 invited COVID-19 frontliners, essential workers and community volunteers.
"Together, Our Singapore Spirit” was the theme of the parade. The performances were a nod to Singaporeans’ unity and can-do spirit that has kept the country strong amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kicking off Singapore’s 56th birthday celebration was an ode to the country – titled Breathing City, performed by Sezairi Sezali.
While it looked like the song would be performed virtually, the singer surprised the audience with a dramatic entrance by ascending from beneath the stage.
Clear skies and good weather paved the way for the return of the Red Lions, a crowd favourite that has become synonymous with the National Day Parade.
All eyes – and mobile phones – were turned to the sky as the free-fallers jumped out of a plane.
Cheers erupted in the stands as the Red Lions landed and saluted the nation.
Back in the skies, the sound of rotor blades thundered across Marina Bay as two Apache helicopters circled each other in the air. F-15SG fighter jets then performed stunts during the aerial display. Tearing past the floating platform, their roars filled the air, bringing the prologue to a close.
Contingents from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and the Home Team marched in formation towards the stage, kicking off the grand parade and ceremony segment.
Unlike the ceremonial parade held on National Day, this time, they marched in front of members of the public.
They were joined virtually by members of uniformed groups from secondary schools, as well as various social and economic organisations.
It was a combination of military precision, live music and entertainment, as pipers from the Women Police Pipes and Drums marched while playing in unison to the beat of the drums.
Also adding colour to the military display were jazzy renditions of popular NDP songs – including this year’s theme song The Road Ahead – by the combined band from the Singapore Police Force and SAF.
President Halimah Yacob arrived shortly after, waving to the audience as she made her way up to the stands.
During her inspection of the parade, cannons on board a military raft in the bay fired 21 times as a salute to the President.
Returning to the podium, she observed as Guard of Honour contingents hoisted their rifles to the sky, executing the celebratory volleys of a feu de joie.
Then came a special tribute to those who bravely soldiered on during the pandemic. COVID-19 frontliners, essential workers and community volunteers waved their flags as they received a salute from the parade contingents. Above, fighter jets roared past in a delta formation.
“I feel honoured to be recognised, especially during these bad times and COVID,” said train operator Mashardi Abdullah Mawardi.
“So, I just want to say thank you to all Singaporeans for appreciating us and for your friendliness.”
For cabin crew member Hazel Poh, the parade’s aerial display held a special significance.
“I couldn’t take my eyes off the planes, I just wanted to be in one … it really did trigger emotions and feelings, I hope the (aviation) industry bounces back soon,” said the 54-year-old.
“It’s my first time watching the parade live and it feels just so special to be here … so different from watching it on TV.”
Silence filled the floating platform as the last few marching contingents moved off, disappearing under the grandstand.
For a moment, everything went dark.
Then thundering beats and flashing lights erupted on stage. In the stands, a shimmering red sea emerged as tens of thousands of smart lights, taped to the chairs, flickered to life – signalling the start of the parade’s show segment.
Opening with an animated film, the first act of the show introduced six characters from the past and present. They included an aspiring musician and a canoeist who dreams of making the national team.
The 14-minute film, woven throughout the show’s four acts, told stories of how the characters overcame adversity to achieve their dreams.
As the film faded from the screen, performers, outfitted in vibrant costumes rushed onto the stage. Pre-recorded performances by students from the Institute of Technical Education and Republic Polytechnic and the National University of Singapore were woven into the live performance.
It was a burst of colourful and kaleidoscopic scenes, as dancers put on a joyful and celebratory rhapsody, depicting the hopes and aspirations of youths from different generations.
The next act shifted to a darker and more contemplative tone.
On screen, the animated characters returned to take the audience through the numerous challenges and setbacks they faced.
One lost all her belongings and home in a fire that ravaged her village, and another saw her dreams of becoming a national canoeist coming to a halt after fracturing her arm.
Against the backdrop of the night sky, performers glided across the stage carrying white umbrellas under the blueish hue of stage lights.
Singer Aisyah Aziz performed Spirits Anew, one of three original NDP 2021 songs, as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra at Changi Jewel joined virtually.
The stage was awash with a multitude of colours as the performers’ umbrellas lit up to form rainbows.
As the act closed, the animated film showed how the characters were supported by their family and friends.
It was a message received loud and clear: We will get through this together.
Celebrating Singapore’s multicultural heritage, the third act featured familiar vernacular songs including Xi Shui Chang Liu (Friendship Forever) and NDP classics such as We Will Get There.
Dancers in ethnic costumes joined singer Shabir Tabare Alam as he performed the soulful and heartfelt Singai Naadu. They were accompanied by a pre-recorded video of dancers from the People’s Association.
The animation film then revealed that the stories had been inspired by true stories of Singaporeans.
It paid tribute to Mdm Tan Geok Hak, who persevered through hardship and raised four children after the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee fire, as well as Ms Daisy Vaithilingam, who pioneered medical social work in Singapore and started the country’s first foster care programme.
Another familiar name featured in the film was self-taught musician Zubir Said, who later composed Singapore’s national anthem.
As the cameras panned to reveal Mdm Tan and her family sitting in the audience, the crowd clapped and rattled their shakers for her.
The show’s final act opened with SEA Games athletes running in and Singapore’s Olympians on the stage, to cheers and applause from spectators.
To cap off the show, participants from previous acts came together to dance as singer Linying performed the parade’s theme song The Road Ahead.
Spectators rose from their seats one more time to recite the pledge and sing the national anthem.
As the melody of Majulah Singapore echoed through the stands, fireworks went off in the distance.
“It’s been difficult for us, because of all the uncertainty - especially in my industry,” said hotel staff member Wilson Sim.
“I feel a sense of recognition because of all the effort we put in … it hasn’t been easy dealing with the public,” said the 48-year-old who now works as a Safe Distancing Ambassador.
“Being here, it gives us a positive vibe and some hope that we can look forward to a brighter tomorrow.”
It may have been a scaled-down affair, but the Singapore spirit kept the show going, resonating in the hearts of those at Marina Bay and at home.
Watch the full parade: