SINGAPORE - This year's National Day Parade (NDP) saw a uniquely intimate, stripped-down evening show, focused on the stories of ordinary Singaporeans - from nurses to volunteers and cabin crew - banding together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
And while the familiar medium of song and dance brought out the message of a stronger Singapore together, many firsts in Sunday's (Aug 9) show set it apart from past parades.
For the first time in 55 years, it eschewed the usual mass displays, and the grander themes of nation-building and multiracialism took a back seat. Instead, the show was woven around the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
In line with the crisis, the large live audiences of the past were also absent. Aside from 150 spectators at The Star Performing Arts Centre, most people caught the show live from their homes.
The performances also took place with strict Covid-19 control measures. Dance routines deliberately incorporated a 1m spacing between performers, who had to undergo two coronavirus swab tests before curtain-up.
Audience members were seated a safe distance apart from each other, and were not allowed to sing along to the songs.
But such measures could not dampen the mood, with spirits soaring high from the enthusiasm and passion with which the performers sang and danced, and evident in the applause that followed each of the 11 items.
Those watching from home were not left out either. At 8.20pm, the nation rose for the Pledge Moment, when Singaporeans stood and recited the national pledge together.
The show also culminated in a Light-Up Moment, when the live audience was joined by those at home in lifting up their phones for a nationwide display of appreciation for front-line workers and others who made a difference in this pandemic.
The performances this year included a personal song by singer-songwriter Shazuan Shiraj, also known as Abangsapau, who lost his father suddenly during the circuit breaker.
The musician and his 50-year-old mother performed the piece together in dedication to his late father, as well as anyone who has experienced loss during the pandemic.
A special virtual choir, made up of thousands of Singaporeans singing We Are Singapore, was also a heartfelt reminder that the nation remains united despite being separated by physical distance.
The performances were interspersed with a video series of Singaporeans who stepped up during the pandemic, such as senior staff nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) Eriyana Subadi.
Aside from caring tirelessly for Covid-19 patients, the 34-year-old, a nurse of 10 years, was also behind the viral photo of nurses calling on members of the public to stay home.
Calling it a "great honour" to be featured in the video, she said: "I feel undeserving... as I alone cannot represent the dedication and sacrifice of my fellow front-line healthcare workers who are facing this pandemic head on, on a daily basis."
Another Singaporean hero featured in the videos was 46-year-old Johann Annuar, executive director of non-profit organisation Engineering Good, which aims to help disadvantaged communities through sustainable engineering solutions.
Under its Computers Against Covid initiative, the organisation refurbished and distributed almost 3,000 laptops to those in need through some 130 beneficiary organisations, such as family service centres.
The pandemic has worsened the disparity in access to information as people have been forced to lean heavily on online tools for activities such as learning and school work, said Mr Johann on why he started the initiative. The disadvantaged and low-income families are disproportionately affected as they may not have the necessary devices or data plans, he said.
"In this day and age, information is the currency you can use to build yourself up, and if it's difficult for you to get information, you're one step behind," he added.
A third role model in the videos is Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff, founder of Free Food For All (FFFA).
The charity has been delivering ready-to-eat and cooked meals to nearly 1,000 households each month in the past few months, more than five times the number of households it helped before the coronavirus outbreak began. Requests for the meals increased substantially during the pandemic, said Mr Nizar, 49.
Mr Nizar, who uses a wheelchair and has various health conditions such as kidney failure, said: "Time is not on my side, but every day I am given the gift of waking up I feel that there must be something that I can do to serve humanity."
He added: "My generation saw a bit of what kampung life was but we were sucked into the rat race mentality. Now, we have to do what's right for the environment, for the community, and strengthen others."
And the smaller evening show did not stop audience members from enjoying themselves either. Student Junise Neo, 15, said while this year's NDP was a different experience, she enjoyed the intimate atmosphere and musical performances.
"NDP to me means coming together with fellow Singaporeans, and while I missed the crowd at the Padang and Marina Bay, I still think this was a great way to celebrate," she said.
Another audience member, safe distancing ambassador Serene Claire Tay, 38, said her favourite part of the show was the virtual choir.
"It's very personal, and had lots of Singaporeans coming together from all walks of life. It's very heartwarming to see that Singaporeans have the resilience to go through everything," she said, adding that she teared up during the performance.
Those at home enjoyed the show as well. Senior patient service associate at TTSH Nur Haidah Mohamed Yusoff, 37, watched the performance with her father and took part in the light-up event.
She said: "The stories and clips shared by our front-liners, volunteers and those that were affected by Covid-19 were truly heartening. This year's NDP celebration truly shows how we try to carry on with our lives despite the adversity presented by this pandemic, in a new normal."