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Q&A: Kenji Williams

A talk with the creator and violinist behind Bella Gaia: A Poetic Vision of Earth from Space, which TITAS brings to the AT&T Performing Arts Center on Monday. With ticket giveaway.



published Thursday, February 21, 2013
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The next event on the TITAS schedule promises to be something truly out of this world: Bella Gaia, a multimedia event combining images from NASA with live music to give viewers a unique view of their home planet. "Bella Gaia" means "beautiful earth," and this show is designed to give viewers a perspective on their planet that they've never envisioned before.

This is a kid-friendly show, appropriate for viewers three and up. It will include some imagery of Texas, including the 2011 wildfires as seen from space. For a sneak peek of the show, look here.

Kenji Williams, the project's creator and an onstage violinist, spoke to TheaterJones about the project and his own role in it.

 

Why did you start Bella Gaia?

I was performing in Japan, playing electronic, improvisational music influenced by Welsh, Middle Eastern and Gypsy music plus digital effects to create "orchestras with one bow."

I was approached by a wealthy young man while I was living in Tokyo. He was a space tourist, paying money to go to space! He was a fan of my work, and paid me to go to Kazakhstan to go to Space Camp. We went to Moscow and to Star City, where they train astronauts.

I met the astronaut Mike Fincke, and I asked him what changed when he went to space. I heard a profound story of seeing Earth from space for the first time—seeing a borderless world, a living bubble of life. It was like a religious experience for him, and he gained a greater appreciation for our planet.

I thought, "How can I bring that transformative experience to those of us who can't go to space?" It took several years for me to gestate that idea, but Bella Gaia grew organically from there.

 

What makes Bella Gaia really special?

There's nothing like it. Three astronauts have said it makes them feel as if they're back in space. It has the message of our time: the relationship between humans and nature and how the dialogue has been lost. How we're seeing a breakdown in earth systems. And it is all visualized with the most amazing animations made by NASA.

There are no words in Bella Gaia, only images and music, yet it expresses and explains so much in a captivating way. It's a celebration of our cultural heritage and our natural heritage in about 80 minutes.

 

How does the idea of space exploration inform Bella Gaia?

We thought we were going out to explore the universe, but we've really learned more about ourselves.

Those photographs of the first Apollo missions have become icons for the progress that has happened since that time—the environmental movement, the Civil Rights movement. All of these things that have improved the health of the planet to some degree have come out of that. But we need a more immersive experience than those photos. Jupiter and Saturn are beautiful, but there's nothing as beautiful as this planet, how alive it is.

 

How does the live music fit in?

When I'm on stage playing violin, I'm like the Fiddler on the Roof of a very large operation—I'm more like a creative director than like a violinist, as that's only a small part of what I do now. The soundtrack is mostly my composition and production. I also edit and direct the visual. But some of the musicians did compose their own sections: Yumi Kurosawa composed the Japan section, and Deep Singh the India section, while parts of the Egypt section are improvisatory.

 

The idea of interconnectedness seems really important to you—can you talk more about that?

Part of the message is exploring how ancient traditions and indigenous cultures had a real dialogue with nature and understood how everything is interconnected. It's a Western idea to view nature as a collection of objects we can take and consume.

It is ironic that it has taken Western science to see how interconnected our world is, as you will see in Bella Gaia. The word "Gaia"—the reason I chose that word—it's the name of a goddess, yes, but it also means our world as an interconnected whole. We have to take care of our earth for our own survival.

I wanted to mix all kinds of cultures and traditions and music on one stage. I want to make a new platform, to make a new ritual that is non-exclusive, non-religious, and reminds us of our interconnected world.

This is the reason for indigenous peoples to have rituals to start with, to remind us of our place in our natural world. Today our global rituals are the Olympics or New Year's Eve, which don't remind us of what sustains us.

◊ For a ticket giveaway to this event, go hereThanks For Reading




Comments:

Cindy Gordon writes:
Wednesday, February 27 at 10:36PM

I am hoping this performance will make its way out to the Pacific Northwest... namely Portland, Oregon. If not, will you eventually have a live version of your performance for sale on DVD? I am quite certain it will be a good seller.


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Q&A: Kenji Williams
A talk with the creator and violinist behind Bella Gaia: A Poetic Vision of Earth from Space, which TITAS brings to the AT&T Performing Arts Center on Monday. With ticket giveaway.
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