By Melissa Groth
The power of Bella Gaia comes from its subtlety. The project, a multi-media concert experience from creator Kenji Williams, consists of four live musicians, two interpretive belly dancers, and 90 minutes of gorgeous NASA images of earth and the solar system projected on a huge screen. Illustrating the mostly devastating relationship between humans and the earth, Bella Gaia will hypnotize you with its beauty, but a more sinister message lurks just beneath the surface.
The program is a four-part story about the different aspects of human life on earth, beginning with a glimpse of the earth and the universe as living, creative things. Part One emphasizes that the earth is the only place with the set of conditions making human life possible. The combination of the four live musicians, including Kenji Williams on violin, and NASA satellite images and videos is mesmerizing.
Part Two focuses on different areas of earth and the specific impact human life has had on those areas. The relationship between Indians and the Ganges river is brought to life through the dance of two belly dancers, Lale Sayoko and Irina Akulenko. Sayoko and Akulenko dance while clips of interviews with Indians who rely on the Ganges play on the screen behind them; the potential for the Ganges drying up looming over the dance.
Japan, New York City, and the Middle East are other areas focused on before Part Three, The Anthropocene, wherein humans are the primary force of change to the environment. It is in this section that the impact of human life on the earth is made most apparent; not only through photos but also animated infographics. The program is not wholly about the negative impact, however, as hopeful statistics on wind and solar energy are also included. Part Four ties back into Part One and the conditions of Earth that support human life.
Kenji Williams has created an interesting concept. With Williams on violin, Yumi Kurosawa on 20-string koto, soaring vocals by Kristin Hoffman, and percussion by Deep Singh, the performance as a whole is at times stunning. The musical composition accompanies the projected images and videos effectively. I imagine it’s what being in an episode of Planet Earth is like. The four musicians are playing along to a recorded track, which I thought was an interesting choice, and somewhat takes away from the program as being an immersive experience. The recorded images that are projected could be served better by less recorded music and more live scoring. The belly dancers are gorgeous and enhance the story of the human relationship with Earth. Rather than a typical doomsday prophecy about climate change and carbon emissions, Bella Gaia is hopeful and promising. It is a journey for you to take without leaving the Strathmore auditorium, with the subtle call to action to take care of the only place that can sustain you laced within the powerful imagery.