Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Bella Gaia

Bella Gaia (Courtesy Photo).
Bella Gaia (Courtesy Photo).

Bella Gaia, an immersive audiovisual experience calling humans to reconnect with nature and take care of the planet, features images from all over the world – and outer space – and it’s been performed all over the world.

It’s been performed over 200 times in 10 countries and venues such as UNESCO and the U.S. State Department for Barack Obama’s Cairo Initiative. And the show will be performed at Strathmore Theatre in Bethesda this Friday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m. It will be the largest scale performance of the show in this region. Beautiful Earth, an album based on the live show was released on Nov. 11. A preview of the live show is posted to Vimeo.

“Bella Gaia means beautiful earth and Gaia is originally known as the Greek goddess of the Earth, but there’s a more modern interpretation of the word meaning the Earth as a living organism or an interconnected whole,” said Bella Gaia creator and creative director Kenji Williams.

“So really what the Bella Gaia experience communicates is how Earth is alive, how it is interconnected and how we as humans effect and are connected with the natural world and our ecosystem.”

Williams, a musician, filmmaker and Bethesda native, created Bella Gaia after meeting NASA astronaut Mike Fincke and learning about the transformative “Overview Effect” Fincke experienced while viewing Earth from the window of a space station. And he’s been conveying that experience to his audiences, with the help of NASA grants, while educating them on the state of the planet.

“The experience is a journey of orbiting above the Earth as if you were an astronaut and then you zoom in to different countries around the world,” Williams said. “And the message really explores ways that humans around the world have had a dialogue with nature, but perhaps in today’s modern times we’ve lost that dialogue and it’s been more about a human monologue.

“So Bella Gaia reminds what it costs to lose that and what we’re seeing now with these systems crises like climate change.”

The production features world class musicians, who combine live music from around the world blended into an electronic, world, classical concoction with the video Williams described previously and data visualizations from NASA to help entertain and educate audiences.

The show was made in the tradition of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” PBS’s original “Cosmos” series with Carl Sagan or Fox’s 2014 update with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Williams agrees that Bella Gaia is in that tradition, but pointed out how his production differs from the Cosmos series or other attempts to bring an understanding of the natural world into mainstream consciousness.

“With narration, sure you’ll learn a lot more in terms of information, but it takes you out of this sort of immersive, emotional journey,” Williams said. “Words just sort of get in the way.”

Williams wants to audiences to feel the experience of Bella Gaia emotionally before they process it intellectually. And according to him, and NASA, it’s working.

“There is something to that in terms of impacting people that is more than just memorization of facts if you really want to change somebody,” Williams said.

“And I have proof of this, both personally – I’ve converted climate skeptics in one show – and then we also have NASA survey data that points to Bella Gaia being kind of the holy grail that the environmental movement is searching for, which is personalizing these large environmental issues so that people feel like it effects their personal lives and their family.”

• For more information about Bella Gaia, visit bellagaia.com.