SHERIDAN — For artists, the space in which they create is a precious commodity. In that space, line, color and form must come together to represent life or emotion.
Some artists prefer small spaces — 5 inches or 8 inches. Some prefer large — 5 feet, 8 feet or a wall-sized mural. And some prefer very, very large — like the sky.
It is only in the sky that a chrysanthemum can be painted 350 feet in diameter, 200 feet above the ground. It is only in the sky that bursts of color and light can wow a crowd of thousands gathered below on a gallery floor made of grass.
“It’s your own creative interpretation,” Bruce Burns said about his yearly Fourth of July fireworks display at the Big Horn Equestrian Center. “It’s not that far different than abstract art. It’s not different than a dance choreographer hearing a piece of music and figuring out what sort of dance move to design for that portion of the music.”
Burns, a state senator for Sheridan County, has played with fire all his life. From exploding firecrackers during his childhood in New York state to putting on small shows with consumer fireworks when he moved to Wyoming, Burns’s interest in pyrotechnic art grew steadily. He eventually started attending conventions of Pyrotechnics Guild International and earned his Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives license so he could purchase and shoot Class B Display fireworks.
“I was a fireman for eight years. I’ve put ‘em up, I’ve put ‘em out and my name is Burns. I’m a Renaissance man,” he said.
This year’s Fourth of July show at the Equestrian Center is being tagged the “First 25th Annual Fireworks Extravaganza” because no one could remember if this was year 24 or 25 for the show that has become an annual tradition for thousands of residents. Next year will be the “Second 25th Annual” show. Regardless, it will be a fun evening for all with food and drink vendors, live music by Dave Munsick and Friends and a fireworks display that will include five different choreographers in four distinct show segments that are set to music on Z94 FM.
“A fireworks choreographer involuntarily plays fireworks to any music they hear, and so the inspiration will either come earlier that year or, sometimes, more than a year in advance. In your mind, you figure out what kind of firework you want to put in which parts of the show,” Burns said.
The range of fireworks is large, Burns said, but many are named after vegetation to describe the pattern they make in the air. There are palm trees, willows, dahlias, peonies and falling leaves. It is these different patterns that a fireworks artist, a pyrotechnician, uses to paint the sky in celebration of America’s independence.
Two new choreographers — Pat Pearce and Dave Avery — will join longtime show contributors David Wang, Ed Salvatore and Burns to put on a half-hour display with music ranging from Chris LeDoux to Katy Perry to The B52s. Burns said it will essentially be four different shows as each individual’s choreography shines through the booms and bangs digitally programmed to each piece of music.
“It is an artistic expression. It’s part technical and part artistic,” Burns said.
At the end of months of choreography and nearly a week of setup, though, it’s all worth it when people “ooh” and people “ahh” at that masterpiece you made on a canvas of sky.