Theatre set Nixon in China

Excerpt from the minutes of the preparatory talks between Chou En Li and Henry Kissinger 1971 Library of Congress.

I find the concept of “landing” engaging, as an artist.

I think it is fundamentally different to “arrival” which has a sense of purposeful achievment. “Landing” suggests a sense of relief, of refuge or a sense of safety, after perils overcome.

Landings can be accompanied by (literally) Thanksgiving, as in the case of the early Europeans arriving as colonists in America; or celebration as in the Apollo landings on the Moon.

Equally, landings can be fraught, terrifying and irreversible. We think of the D-Day landings and deaths of thousands of young men, and civilian casualties. We think of Cortez, burning his boats as he landed in the New World, to prevent retreat.

Air reconnaisance photograph D Day

The British understanding of D-day has probably shifted more than that of any other nation. At first we thought we British had won the war, with some late-arriving help. Then we conceded, bearing in mind the Pacific, that the Americans had won it. Only later was it grasped that Russia had borne the greatest strain.

Even now, an obsolete view of Britain’s role underpins isolationist thinking in this country. What is not disputed is that the way the western allies fought increased the pressures for more democratic and egalitarian societies.

The Guardian 6th June 2014

There are those who yearn for and long for landing, with every fibre in the being; the reugees adrift in the sea in leaky boats, of the passage of the infant, from womb to world; and of the last final place of settlement; life to death.

05.06.2018 – Central Med – Sea-Watch is in an ongoing rescue operation. At 07:30 Seawatch3-bridge found a crowded rubberboat in distress and coordinated the rescue-operation with the Italian MRCC. 115 people were saved from drowning in this operation. The picture shows the boat from above.

Nixon In China

Nixon, his wife Pat and their entourage left the White House on February 17th 1972, spending a night in Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station, Oahu, Hawaii. They arrived the next day in Guam at 5 pm, where they spent the night at Nimitz Hill, the residence of the Commander, Naval Forces, Marianas. The next morning, February 21, at 7 am the Nixons left Guam for Shanghai. After 4 hours in the air, the Nixons arrived in Shanghai. From Shanghai, the Nixons traveled to Beijing.

Meeting with Mao

From February 21 to 28, 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon travelled to Beijing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai. Almost as soon as the American president arrived in the Chinese capital, Chairman Mao summoned him for a quick meeting.

Secretary of State Rodgers was excluded from this meeting and the only other American present besides Kissinger, was Kissinger’s assistant Winston Lord. To avoid embarrassing Rogers, Lord was cropped out of all the official photographs of the meeting.

Source Nixon Library Archive

You can see Lord’s chair on the right

Although Nixon was in China for a week, this would be his only meeting with the top Chinese leader. Unbeknown to Nixon, Mao was in poor health and he had been hospitalised for several weeks up to only nine days before Nixon’s arrival.

Film: The Landing

I have created a short film based upon the event of the landing of Nixon in Beijing, for use in a subsequent projection mapping context.

I made a cine-montage of 747 jets kanding, form a number of clips, and set the video to the music of John Adam’s opera “Nixon in China” Act 1 Scene 1, “The Landing”.

The trippy feel to the footage gives a sense of the disorientation and surreal experience landing in Communist China must have been, for the right wing American President and his party.

Nixon in China

Reflective Practice and Learning Outcomes


I felt that I had learned something important about the relationship between the dynamic of the music and the dynamics of the film; but even more so, something new about the dynamics of the music and the dynamics of the colour. The story could be told at many levels simultaneously through both the register of the work; and the build up of anticipation and release of tension.

Evidencing mastery of existing techniques

In order to create the short video “Landing” I had to manage a range of relatively unfamiliar video editing skills. The work necessitated moving between different video software programs; firstly to identify and capture the video footage; to crop and edit the length; to strip and substitute the audio tracks and to digitalise the final cut.

The final edit (just under 3 minutes) took about four hours to render on a laptop; so in future I may need access to a render farm for larger projects.

Innovation of new methods

By stretching the envelope of the colour spectrum in these quite ordinary clips of a 747 landing; and landing gear descending, I felt I had transformed something mundane into something quite moving. The next step (which I will unfortunatley have to wait to perform), is to test the projection of the images, to recreate something of the physical motion and sense of anticipation of the original music; and the staging I’ve created with the mapping.

It may be that using bigger stereo speakers will enhance the sense of movement even further.

Engaging Imagination

I felt the landing of the 747 was a smeinal point in the whole narrative; it was comprable with the moon landing (alluded to in the rference to the Sea of Tranquility – the Apollo lunar landing site- in the libretto).

I am confident that this work will stimulate the audience to ask more questions about these historic events, which are already fading in living memory.

In consequence of the lockdown, the sketchbook of ideas has necessarily been digitalised, and is integrated in these posts on the Bob Tate website.

The Creation of New Realities

Coronavirus is the new reality; and it is a reality borne out of the globalsiation of the world, consequent upon the meteroic rise of China as a world power and economic force; and the relative weakness of America and the West to adjust to the new realities of world order. The largest and fastest growing economy in the world has been crippled by an infection created out of the cauldron of the most primitive marketplace conditions imaginable.

Coronavirus IS the new reality; it remains to be seen if that reality has propelled us forward into a new era of multi-national authoritarianism; or if liberal social values of mutual support (literally incubated by the viral crisis) will prevail.

This is why visitors to the exhibition of this work, will be asked to sanitise their hands, even though there is no hands on contact at all.

To be continued.

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