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To negate all doubt, Andy Benjamin Cai has cheekily emblazoned his role in NDP 2022 across his chest. Photo: Sim Ding En

Hot Pot And A Rage Room Help NDP 2022's Chief Choreographer Stay Sane

It’s been said that management is nothing more than motivating other people. Many of us know that that’s easier said than done – just think about how HR has to crack their brains to think of cohesion activities that will engage their disinterested staff.

Now imagine that scenario on a very large scale. Think: Having to manage and motivate over 2,000 performers for Singapore's biggest national event of the year. Then you get a sense of the magnitude of stress faced by someone like Andy Benjamin Cai, the chief choreographer of this year’s National Day Parade (NDP).

Held at the Marina Bay Floating Platform for the last time before the venue closes for renovation works to redevelop it into NS Square, NDP 2022 sees the large-scale return of 1,300 student and youth participants (as performers, audience motivators and make-up artists), and the involvement of volunteers from TOUCH Community Services, members of People’s Association and Families For Life as well as performers from Soka Gakkai Singapore and pugilists from Martial House.

During the show, Andy (centre) says he's all over the place. "Some days, I’m hiding among the audience. Other days, I’m under the stage or looking through Gates 1 to 6."Photo: Sim Ding En
Because there are so many moving parts, the main challenge for Andy is maintaining the communication between the creative team and show partners.Photo: Ng Kai

All of them are led by Andy, a senior manager with the Music & Drama Company, where his day job includes conceptualising shows to boost the morale of NS enlistees on Pulau Tekong, and to entertain crowds at SAF-related events like the recent Army Open House.

No stranger to NDP (he was also involved in the 2017 show), the graduate of LASALLE College of the Arts has been dancing and choreographing for almost 18 years. Thankfully, this year, he has a team of assistant choreographers and co-choreographers from the various show partners to help him bear the load.

We speak to the 38-year-old about the challenges of managing such a massive group of people, and the respite that Hai Di Lao and The Fragment Room bring him.

Wah, Andy, as chief choreographer, you’re there from the start to the end – shag sia. What do you do to keep up your drive and mental health, and to just chill?

Food makes me happy! I love Hai Di Lao, and there’s one opposite [the Floating Platform] at Marina Square. So, every time I get stressed after seven hours of meetings (with no break and lunch), I pop over and make myself happy. The other thing is that, as dancer-choreographers, we appreciate movement a lot more, so The Fragment Room allows me to express myself, not aggressively but to just - URGH! - vent my frustrations. But not all dancers are like that lah - I’m just talking about myself!

This isn’t your first time being involved in NDP. How different is NDP 2022 for you?

This year, everybody wants to perform! The participants are just so eager and enthusiastic. It’s so easy for me. I’d go, “Guys, do it one more time!” and they’d be like, “Yeah!!!” Their energy really inspires and moves me.

With the National Education Shows for the Primary 5 students, NDP previews, and the actual show on 9 Aug, the production gets repeated numerous times. Do you get emotional at any of them?

Because there are changes to the show constantly every week, I don’t have the energy to feel emotional. I’m more concerned about “Did you get the step count?!” “What time code are you coming in?!” “Are you at the correct entrances? OMG, we changed this already! Why are you still appearing here?!” I’m quite overwhelmed by all the changes, so I think I’ll probably get emotional only on the 9th of August, because [by then] we can’t change anything already!

There are over 2,000 performers in NDP 2022. What’s the secret behind managing such a massive group?

Be on the ground with them. When they see you under the hot sun rehearsing with them, see you showing them the movements, exercising with them, training with them, going to all the rehearsals with them, they appreciate you, and listen to you and respect you.

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