Bella Gaia: Origin Stories of Japan

MC Nozomi Terao

Article By Bak Keung Ko
Photo by J-COLLABO

On Sunday, March 31, J-COLLABO presented its first collaboration project under “Discover J”, a new effort to introduce the world to Japan, its history and its aesthetics, at NYU Skirball Center. Named “Bella Gaia: Origin Stories of Japan”, various artists and performers worked to bring about an unique sense of understanding nature, the Earth and Japan all the while exploring the different environmental problems that exist in today’s society.

pre-event video screening by CHIKA

The show started off with a pre-event video screening by CHIKA, an interactive visual artist and educator, with landscape visuals.

At 6:30PM, MC Nozomi Terao gave the opening remarks and introduced Bella Gaia with a Noh-inspired dance performance by Mayo Yamaguchi, Kaoru Watanabe, and Yumi Kurosawa.

Dance Performance by M. Yamaguchi.

After the performance, the program was split into 4 parts: “The Living Universe, The Living Earth”, “Human and natural Expressions of the Living Universe”, “The Anthropocene”, and the “Finale”. Each part included a unique mix of musical performances with a background of high-definition pictures of the Earth.

Part I encompassed a performance by Kenji Williams (violin on the left), Kristin Hoffmann (vocalist singer on the left), Deep Singh (drums on the right), and Yumi Kurosawa (koto on the right) with a backdrop of various NASA HD images of the Earth. It portrayed the Earth as beautiful and alive as it is the only world that we know that exists and can harbor sentient life.

Part I: The Living Universe, The Living Earth.

Part II consisted of the Japanese Gagaku Ensemble, T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, Kenji Williams, Kristin Hoffmann, Deep Singh and Yumi Kurosawa. With their combined music and a backdrop of various images of the Earth’s oceans, they express Earth’s living nature. The never-ending currents, constant shifts in temperature, and vast sustaining life demonstrates how alive the Earth truly is. There is a “rhythm and biosphere pulse”. (quoted from Bella Gaia program brochure) They express the connection between nature and the Universe with an exploration of Japanese culture, Shinto and Buddhist art influences. The combined sounds of the gagaku, koto, and shomyo bring together a sense of beauty of ancient Japan to modern-day Japan. However, this relationship is now being undermined due to anthropogenic factors. One such example is the 2011 Japan nuclear disaster.

T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, Buddhist priest doing Shomyo (chanting).

Part III explores the effects of human interaction with the Earth. Over the years, our usage of the Earth’s resources has damaged the Earth more than we realize. This shows that we’ve lost our connection with Nature with the advent of new technology and a new era, and the music invokes a sense of familiarity that we should try to reunite with as we are, and have always been, one with nature and the Universe.

Japanese Gagaku Ensemble

Part IV, the finale performance, essentially summarizes the importance of the Earth and how She has supported life throughout millennia. It is our responsibility to remember that this is our home and we should treasure it as we do with anything else we hold dear. The finale ends with a remarkable Samayolu belly dance performance by Lale Sayoko with the Japanese Gagaku Ensemble in the background, and closing remarks by MC Nozomi Terao.

Finale Performance with Lale Sayoko with the Japanese Gagaku Ensemble in the background

After the performance, DJ Spooky interviewed the person behind Bella Gaia, Kenji Williams. Kenji Williams is “an award-winning filmmaker, music producer, theatrical show director, and classically-trained violinist”.  As the founding director, he brought about a different perspective of visualizing nature and the Earth. He states that “it’s as if you were an astronaut in space, looking down at the Earth and its beauty”. His work on Bella Gaia is to focus on Japan and its culture, all the while exploring the relationships between us and the Earth.(Quotes from

DJ Spooky interviewed Kenji Williams

As an attendee, I enjoyed this interplay between high-definition Earth images and the mix of different musical instruments to invoke an emotional response from the audience. Not only was it a great musical performance, it also brought about a sense of beauty of the nature around us. Not many people get to observe the beauty of nature or space because modern society is mostly centered around urban settings. That said, this live performance made me feel like I was watching a live music video which in it of itself was an interesting and amazing experience. This combination of instruments and scientific images evoked a strong sense of familiarity and emotion because I myself am a budding scientist and physician so I can relate to the performance in that aspect, and I am also a lover of music. Merging these two elements made the experience great.

For more about Bella Gaia:

Bella Gaia casts

Tomoko sugawara (Harp), Fumio Tashiro (Bass), Kenya Kawaguchi (Shakuhachi)


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