The show had been postponed from Aug 9 following a resurgence of Covid-19 in the community, but Singapore proved on Saturday (Aug 21) that when the National Day Parade (NDP) goes on, it can be both grand and heart-warming.
While the live performances on the floating platform at Marina Bay were scaled down from pre-pandemic levels, the show's virtual dance routines, video clips and animated films tugged at the heartstrings.
The pre-parade activities kicked off at about 6pm in front of an audience of about 1,000 invited guests. These everyday heroes included bus drivers, supermarket cashiers, and hawkers.
One of those in the stands was former hotelier Wilson Sim, 48, who is now a safe distancing ambassador.
He said: "Especially now when people are having a difficult time, they may feel very negative about the future. We need to bring them confidence for what lies ahead."
Performers from the Singapore Armed Forces' Music and Drama Company took the stage first with a medley of popular tunes including Singapore Town, Together and Semoga Bahagia.
Their performance was followed by singer-songwriter Sezairi Sezali singing Breathing City, one of three original songs written for this year's parade.
The 34-year-old emerged on stage via a hydraulic platform that had pictures of his mother, whom he has not been able to see often amid the pandemic, as well as of his cat, Champagne, which died while he was writing the song.
He told the media prior to the show: "It's been really hard because things keep changing all the time. But everyone's still very level (and) extra kind to one another... and that's something I really appreciate."
Mandopop duo The Freshman took the stage next and performed Call Me (Not Maybe), an upbeat tune about Singaporeans uniting regardless of their ethnicities or backgrounds.
In between the music performances, Members of Parliament took their seats. Cabinet ministers, former president Tony Tan, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived in succession soon after.
The Red Lions then dazzled the crowd with free-fall jumps in their signature red-and-white parachutes.
This was followed by an aerial display involving five F-15SG fighter jets and two Apache helicopters - the aircraft soared above the platform to the delight of the audience.
Three of the fighter jets approached the show centre in a formation resembling the letter V.
One of the jets circled Marina Bay Sands before performing a vertical climb to symbolise progress and prosperity for the nation.
Some 600 participants were involved in the parade. These included four guard-of-honour contingents, the SAF Colours Party, five SAF and Home Team contingents and a combined SAF and Singapore Police Force (SPF) band.
Another 200 participants from nine youth uniformed groups and 12 social and economic organisations joined in virtually via pre-recorded segments.
When President Halimah Yacob arrived, the National Anthem was played in sync with the state flag fly-past.
This was followed by the firing of a 21-gun salute as President Halimah inspected the parade.
The parade segment concluded with a performance by the combined SAF and SPF band and a video commemorating the history of The Float @ Marina Bay, which is expected to make way for NS Square.
Fireworks then lit up the night, marking the start of the show segment.
One highlight of the evening was a 14-minute animated film by local studio Robot Playground Media which showed the plights of six Singaporeans of different generations who overcame challenges.
One of them, Madam Tan Geok Hak, 92, a survivor of the 1961 Bukit Ho Swee fire, was in the audience for the first time. "I was very touched when they asked me to be part of the parade. I never expected so many journalists to speak to me about my experience in the Bukit Ho Swee fire," she said.
The inferno on May 25, 1961, remains one of the biggest fires that Singapore has seen. It burned from 3.30pm till after 8pm, killing four and destroying a kampung where some 16,000 people including Madam Tan's family lived.
Madam Tan's children were safe with their grandfather in the Kampong Bugis area, having been taken there by their nanny.
Others featured in the film included the late social worker Daisy Vaithilingam, who set up Singapore's first fostering scheme for children and co-founded what became the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.
"For her, joy came from dealing with people," said her nephew Glenn Knight, a 76-year-old lawyer, who described his aunt as like a second mother to him and his cousins.
The first of four acts of the NDP 2021 show saw student performers from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), National University of Singapore and Republic Polytechnic performing dances while singers including Benjamin Kheng, Nick Zavior and Shabir Tabare Alam covered a medley of pop songs.
ITE College Central student Mohamad Shahzuie Jaffar, 18, performed as a cheerleader for the first time since his last participation in 2012. The engineering student, who is part of the ITE Show Choir, said: "I got to meet people who share the same interest as me in dancing... Performing in this item about dreams and aspirations reminded me that anything is possible."
The next act saw singer-songwriter Aisyah Aziz, 27, perform an original song, Spirits Anew, which she co-wrote with Harun Amirrul Rasyid Mohamed.
"Every single time the song gets played I get goosebumps. It's such a good feeling also to know that this year we are given the chance to explore more original songs," she said.
Spirits Anew was performed with participants from the Singapore Soka Association and accompanied by a recorded performance by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra filmed at Jewel Changi Airport.
Benjamin Kheng returned to the stage to perform Where I Belong as the audience shook their lighted rattles in sync with the beat.
Singapore's Olympians also made an appearance in the finale of the show, fresh from their heroics in Tokyo.
Among them was Joseph Schooling, Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist. The 26-year-old told ST: "Most of us have experienced tough moments these last 18 months, and with news of Singapore gradually lifting Covid-19 restrictions, it seems a very apt time for celebrations. It's an honour to be part of the parade and I am sure brighter and better times are ahead for all of us."
The athletes remained on stage as this year's theme song, The Road Ahead was performed by singers Linying, Sezairi Sezali, Shabir Tabare Alam and Shye-Anne Brown.
Following a melody of NDP songs, the national anthem was played, and fireworks lit up the sky to conclude an NDP unlike any other.https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=241101294543026
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.