WHILE the Neo-centennial pyromusical hosted by UST was enough to ignite Thomasian pride, a less-known detail about the pyrotechnic spectacle topped it all—the spectacular show was executed by a team led by two young Thomasians.

In 2007, when Advertising majors Don Miguel Villarosa and John Oliver Zeng were still in their sophomore year, Dragon Fireworks, Inc. was already producing pyrotechnic displays for a number of the University’s annual special events such as the Baccalaureate Mass and Paskuhan.

Perhaps it was the default alphabetical seating arrangement that formed their friendship, but it was the same deep interest in fireworks that really made them click.

“We kept on talking about fireworks in class and there were only three of us that you would usually find seated at the back—Villarosa, Villena, and Zeng. Don and I would always talk about the latest fireworks shows and effects, and our classmate who sat between us, CJ Villena, bore witness to it all,” said Zeng, who is now a pyrotechnician at Dragon Fireworks.

Since childhood, Villarosa and Zeng both had a fascination for pyrotechnics. But it was Zeng who was exposed to the business early on because his uncle, who supplied powdered charcoal to fireworks manufacturers in Bulacan, would let him tag along during deliveries or shows.

Villarosa, on the other hand, grew up in a more conservative setting where a career in the fireworks industry was out of the question due to the obvious occupational hazards.

“When I turned 21, I asked my dad for a firing system (a contraption that allows fireworks operators to ignite fireworks with just a push of a button) so it’d be safer. He granted my wish, but he didn’t approve of what I was doing. When I was offered a job by another competitor before, my dad said, ‘If you accept that job, I will disown you.’ So after that, I went underground for a while,” Villarosa said.

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Despite this, he eventually became the youngest national distributor of Dragon Fireworks, as well as one of the company’s pyromusical choreographers and accredited pyromusical display operators.

The actual stepping stone presented itself to Villarosa while he was finalizing plans for his thesis, which was an ad campaign about fireworks during weddings. As fate would have it, the company he chose to contact for his thesis was, of course, Dragon Fireworks.

The then-growing familiarity with Dragon Fireworks pushed Villarosa to watch out for the company’s posts on Youtube, where he would often be found commenting on videos of their shows. It was Villarosa’s unusual eagerness that eventually earned the graduating Fine Arts student an invitation to discuss pyrotechnic shows with the company.

In July 2009, Villarosa and Zeng received their first, official break from Dragon Fireworks—the 95th anniversary of Iglesia ni Kristo. It was soon followed by their first national fireworks display competition, the Pasiklaban, where they represented Dragon Fireworks in September. A year before the two graduated, Zeng had already invited Villarosa to watch the annual fireworks competition in Malolos, Bulacan. Although they were already executing small-scale shows for events such as the College of Fine Arts and Design week, joining a competition was still far out of their reach. It was during Pasiklaban 2008 that Villarosa told Zeng, “Next year, we’ll be the ones competing.” Who would have thought that in 2009, they’d be the youngest team that would enter Pasiklaban?

“They were surprised by what we could do. Some of them didn’t even believe that we actually produced the show,” Zeng said.

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Dragon Fireworks grew prouder of the young pair as they placed third in the competition, which was a feat considering that Villarosa and Zeng were both newbies in the industry.

Pyromusical masters

As a pyromusical display operator and choreographer, Villarosa mixes the songs that go with the fireworks, which he choreographs himself. He concerns himself with what they refer to as “time code,” which is crucial in every pyromusical. Once he finalizes this, he then turns over their “time sheet” or script for its simulation processing. This allows them and their clients to see an electronic simulation of their pyromusical presentation. Zeng focuses on the technical execution of the display. He oversees the set-up and is hands-on with the fireworks equipment from set-up, to ignition, clean-up, and assessment. He also makes sure that they are able to properly execute the time code.

According to Villarosa, they had been planning the concept of the Neo-centennial pyromusical with former Facilities Management Office director and Quadricentennial fireworks point person Fr. Roberto Pinto, O.P. since the success of the pyromusicals during the Quadricentennial opening.

“During the opening of the Quadricentennial celebrarion, Father [Pinto] already mentioned that it (the pyromusical) would be much bigger and would be put in four positions,” Villarosa said.

Villarosa and Zeng took the project to heart, as it was their way of paying homage to their alma mater. The outcome was no less than the first multi-position pyromusical display in the Philippines.

“For me, it was the hardest [project] because the set-up took two days; they (Zeng and company) slept at the top of the Main Building. The choreography also took two sleepless nights since its conception coincided with our Chinese New Year presentation at the Quirino Grandstand,” Villarosa said.

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The video of the Neo-centennial pyromusical on Youtube was a trending hit days after the Neo-centennial celebration. It serves as Villarosa and Zeng’s drive to make something grander in the future.

“Even if we don’t really get to watch our shows live (during the actual fireworks display), it’s okay. The important thing is that we are able to make people happy,” said Zeng, who shared that it was during one of their big shows that he realized how fulfilling their jobs were.

In its entirety, the Neo-centennial pyromusical was a stellar milestone for both UST and the Philippine fireworks industry and Thomasians all over would be proud to know that two young alumni of their beloved University were behind the spectacle.

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