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Scaled-down NDP 2021 honours Covid-19 frontliners, showcases Singapore’s spirit in overcoming adversity

SINGAPORE — It was meant to be a scaled-down party, amid a raging pandemic that saw the country's birthday bash pushed back by about a fortnight due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

A fireworks display at the National Day Parade 2021 at the Floating platform on Aug 21, 2021.

A fireworks display at the National Day Parade 2021 at the Floating platform on Aug 21, 2021.

SINGAPORE — It was meant to be a scaled-down party, amid a raging pandemic that saw the country's birthday bash pushed back by about a fortnight due to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Instead of a 30,000 capacity crowd, there were only 1,000 specially invited spectators. The number of performers was also reduced by 70 per cent to a mere 600. 

But those who were at the National Day Parade (NDP) on Saturday (Aug 21), as well as the millions watching at home and elsewhere, celebrated the country's 56th birthday just the same as the previous 55 occasions — with heart and gusto, and a tinge of nostalgia.

Held at The Float@Marina Bay, this year’s NDP was billed as a “Show of Resilience”. 

1,000 specially invited spectators turned up at the National Day Parade. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

And in seeking to inspire the masses to look forward to better times, as the country gradually emerges from the Covid-19 crisis, the celebrations also reminded Singaporeans of how the country and its people overcame the odds time and again.

This was done through the show’s centrepiece of an animated film, which not only stitched together the different acts but also the real lives of several inspirational Singaporeans, juxtaposed with the struggles that many are facing in the midst of the pandemic.   

The pre-parade show kicked off at about 6pm under clear skies and good weather with singing performances by Sezairi Sezali and Mandopop duo The Freshman, and the Red Lions freefallers — a perennial crowd favourite — as well as aerial displays by the Republic of Singapore Air Force F15-SG fighter jets and Apache helicopters. 

One of the Red Lions Freefallers enthralling the crowd as he lands at The Float@Marina Bay. Photo: Ili Nadhirah Mansor/TODAY

The ceremonial parade featured marching contingents from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Home Team — with members of uniformed groups from secondary schools and other organisations joining in virtually — as well as a 21-gun salute in honour of President Halimah Yacob.

This was followed by a special tribute to "everyday heroes" and the frontliners in the fight against Covid-19 in the form of a salute from the marching contingent, as fighter jets roared across the sky in a special formation.

The show segment, presented in four acts, opened with an animated film introducing six characters from the past and present, and showcased their personal, sporting and societal aspirations.  

Singer Sezairi Sezali performing for the crowd at the National Day Parade. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

Those in attendance participated enthusiastically when the hosts encouraged them to use the LED-shakers.

One such spectator was National University of Singapore student and community volunteer Shaul Hameed, 25.

He was impressed by the way this year’s show incorporated special effects in the storytelling and by the clever use of technology.

“I thought the way they synced all the lights on the seats was very interesting, as was the way they beamed different visuals on the stage floor,” he said.

‘’I’m not the 'instant rah-rah' kind, but the show managed to get me into the mood and I found myself joining in to do actions using the LED-shaker.’’ 

National University student and community volunteer Shaul Hameed said he was impressed by the use of technology at the parade. Photo: Bryna Sim/TODAY

This year’s NDP theme is “Together, Our Singapore Spirit’’, and the show centred on showcasing the nation’s identity and resilience, in hopes of inspiring Singaporeans to continue to dream big and overcome adversity the way the generations before did. 

The first act’s performance on stage featured a mash-up of hits such as High Hopes by Panic! At The Disco, Wings by Little Mix, and gospel song We Shall Overcome — all of which conveyed the message of hope. 

Spectators and viewers were then led back to the animated films on screen, which showed the characters facing various challenges and disappointments: The musician could not keep up; the sportswoman suffered an injury; the father was retrenched, and the seamstress’ home was destroyed by a fire. 

On this sombre note, the second act opened with performers dancing against a backdrop of thundery showers. More performers emerged, each carrying an umbrella. 

The films’ characters then came onscreen, showing them in the process of healing, picking up the pieces and persevering in spite of the various setbacks. 

Then, the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the umbrellas the performers were carrying took on rainbow hues. 

A performance at the National Day Parade. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

On cue, singer Tanya Chua’s Where I Belong played. The song’s lyrics were apt as this act closed: Whether rain or shine it's still, beautiful / Every day's experience bitter, sweet or sour / They are still, wonderful.

It was on this warm and uplifting note that third act began. Onscreen, things were looking up for the various characters. 

It was then revealed that the characters were inspired by true stories of Singaporeans. 

As the faces of medical social work pioneer Daisy Vaithilingam, composer Zubir Said and Bukit Ho Swee fire survivor Tan Geok Hak flashed onscreen, familiar vernacular songs rang out in celebration of the "Singapore Spirit".

As the camera panned to Madam Tan, who was among the spectators, the crowd instinctively gave her a round of applause. 

The show segment drew to a close as Team Singapore athletes came onstage for the fourth act, followed by a performance of the NDP 2021 theme song, The Road Ahead. 

This final act culminated in a grand finale, with all performers and spectators enjoying a medley of familiar national songs, a pledge recital and the singing of the national anthem, against the backdrop of a spectacular fireworks display.

The fireworks display at the parade. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

This year’s multi-sensory, multi-venue, multi-element show — despite the Covid-19 restrictions and the possibility of the show being cancelled altogether — seemed a fitting swansong for The Float@Marina Bay. 

Retired Brigadier-General Teo Jing Siong, who spearheaded its construction, said: ‘’The floating platform is about doing something that has not been done before.’’

Opened in 2007, The Float@Marina Bay will be replaced by the NS Square, which is meant to be the “central focus” of Singapore’s downtown, as announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day message last year. 

Train operator Mashardi Abdullah Mawardi, 44, said that this was his first time watching the NDP live and at The Float. 

He received the news that he was selected to watch the show on his birthday — just last week. 

‘’I wish my wife and kids could be here to watch this with me,’’ he said, adding that he grew “emotional” watching the animated film segments. 

‘‘Those who came before us had their own share of hardships, just as we do today,’’ he said. 

Frontliner Ngo Lay Peng, 55, said that the NDP really touched her.

The radiographer added: ‘’There were tears in my eyes as I watched the animated films. I found myself being reminded that the Singapore Spirit is about not giving up, and about having courage and unity. Together, we can overcome.’’

Ms Ngo Lay Peng, who is a radiographer, was especially touched by the animated films screened at the NDP. Photo: Bryna Sim/TODAY

Related topics

NDP 2021 frontliners National Day The Float Marina Bay parade The Road Ahead

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