“The Front and Center Angle is the Least Interesting”: Opera in Conversation with Adam Larsen

Mar 19, 2019

Tickets are still available for the ONE Festival!

Adam Larsen
Our first Opera in Conversation of the 2019 ONE Festival featured Adam Larsen, who has curated works, designed lighting, as well as exercised a special sort of creativity behind the lens as a photographer. He has worked in film, theatre, and performing arts. Those of the Omaha community might recognize him from his film work from the 2018 ONE Festival, Dharma at Big Sur, of which he was curator and filmmaker. Dharma at Big Sur premiered at the Cincinnati Symphony as a triptych last year. He has worked in multiple capacities for Opera Omaha for 6 seasons, and returns this year as our documentarian for the 2019 ONE Festival. Adam seeks to activate and highlight the dynamic between live performer and image, as well as create documentaries. He appreciates and relishes in the opportunity to be invested in multiple roles.

His skills as a photographer informed much of his integration of artists and bodies into imagery.
If there is anything to remember of Adam Larsen’s artistic practice, it’s that the front and center angle is the least interesting: A simple creed, but one that unfolds into many diverse projects and also well represents the philosophy of our ONE Festival.

For Adam, music can often be a spark for his creativity. A good editor loves music and understand rhythmic cues. What makes Adam’s taste particular visually is that he prefers to observe through angles and shine multiple varying lights on a subject rather than the light that is expected. It’s not about the pristine image, it’s about capturing energy. This can be achieved through lens flares, different models of cameras, special lenses, odd places to film from, and focus on unusual subjects, to name a few. Adam recalls filming from beside the blackout curtains during a live performance; he could hear stage management calling cues and the sounds that audience members might never catch a whisper of. When media is captured only from the full frontal view, “you aren’t hearing the breath or the footfalls of the performance, you’re seeing the dead end version of the live performance”, he remarks.

ONE Festival And Artistry Networks
Adam notes that his familial relationship with Opera Omaha is particularly helpful to his role as a photographer and documentarian with the company. People are made more comfortable knowing Adam as a person, not just as the controller of an intrusive implement like a camera. One of Adam’s goals is to mitigate the intrusiveness of technological instruments and return to a certain level of simplicity that is sometimes sleek, sometimes ripe with imperfections. This is a theme that was repeated many times in the conversation. He states that cameras can be obtrusive and mediums can be destructive. For these reasons, Adam attempts to use technology responsibly and build balance and cohesion across diverse artistic forms.
In examining the piece Dharma at Big Sur, much of Adam’s artistic practice shines through. His piece was a fluid combination of projection, live music by means of an electric violin, and the human body. Adam is drawn to natural elements, particularly in order to escape the darkness of his dark editing rooms. Adam explained that his choice in using a dancer was to better demonstrate the scale of environment. The magnitude of the terrain that was being projected was best shown by placing a moving body in front of it, as well as using selective slow motion effects.

Adam is a strong proponent of hybrid art, or art involving many mediums. He believes that the use of different modalities can lead to cross pollination which is the only way that truly new art can be made. His modus operandi represents evolution, just as the ONE Festival hopes to provide the space for. For example, his hour long show about color in Hawaii will later become a documentary. The music was the foundation for Dharma at Big Sur, and other visual layers followed. Relationships between artists and artistic institutions inspire how art is shared.

In the past, much of his work has been in the form of small groups of creatives. This has been prolific and beneficial in the production of side projects that are born of the art rather than being born separately for marketing purposes. Context and energy can be lost with certain marketing choices. To have the artists themselves create smaller offshoots of the greater holistic art work is much less alien than outsourcing a commercial, for example. Those buds of creativity are just as important as the greater plan and even more beneficial to accessibility for audiences; they might not be able to see the live performance, but they will get to experience a part of the artists’ vision, regardless of a marketing plan.

Simplicity for Thought
Some interesting points were made during the conversation that are worth taking note of: Adam’s simplicity has lead to a sensitivity and aversion in his work to manipulation. He finds film in the Hollywood context to be purposefully addictive, and so in order to avoid an addictive quality in his own work, he avoids square screens (that are reminiscent of televisions or movie screens), and he chooses to not tint images when possible. Perhaps his work is addictive in a different, more natural kind, in the way that one might want to remain immersed in the ocean, or watching the wind from the back porch, or feeling a satisfyingly soft patch of moss. Adam’s work is languid and seductive. While some might find that manipulative, I would say that it’s more reverential; there’s a simplicity to tapping into beauty and magnetism, and all of us here at Opera Omaha look forward to seeing this point of view directed at the artistry of our ONE Festival this year.

By Lillian Snortland
Opera Omaha Weitz Fellow

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