Stella Wiseman, Grandad's House ... The Creative Journey

Session 1

Stella is a journalist and children's novelist, she began her first session by reading aloud a beautiful children's story she had written about her father, or 'grandad' as he is called in the story. 

It is a tale whereby grandad gets swept away as a sea captain aboard a ship into the deepest bluest oceans.  The story is in fact inspired by Stella's dad's dementia, the sailing out to a sea a poignant metaphor for the periods of time grandad is 'at sea' in his mind, away from his family who hold strong, shining a light for him at the harbor.  

Director Sally Marie proposed to the dancers, how might we dance a sentence?  She encouraged Stella to read her story aloud, asking her to repeat phrases and words with different textures so that the dancers might begin to find a way into telling the story.

At the end of the road, across the fields, through the woods, down the path past the roses and the lavender bushes.....

The dancers took it in turns to travel across the studio from one diagonal corner to the opposite improvising to the sentences of the story.  Their bodies flitted between literal translations of words and their own emotional responses to what they were hearing.  They were encouraged to re-traverse the diagonal together but on their own journey, the space became transformed into a moving landscape, where bodies in situation to each other brought the sentences to life.

Witnessing Stella's rehearsal was incredibly moving.  As a creative team, myself the producer, Sally, Dan, Jemima and James listened to Stella describing her relationship with her dad. 

She has found her way in communicating with him, that whether he is in the present reality or off somewhere else that it is important to be with him wherever he is.  Dan pointed out the similarities in dancing, that you have to be adaptable, able to change in order to meet what you are being presented with at any moment.

As well as the sentence improvisations the dancers undertook an aging transformation exercise which saw them using a butoh inspired exercise.  The dancers were instructed to start by standing and over as long a period of time that they could manage to slowly decompose into the floor.  This was incredible to watch, in the slowness of nothing apparently happening, everything was happening.  The dancers very slowly left us, withdrawing into the sensations of their body and succumbing to gravity.

Jemima found this exercise more of a challenge and as such sat out and watched Dan and James.  She was then tasked with being a grandchild trying to steer her grandpas back to her.  What developed from here was simply amazing.  Being fed by both Stella and Sally Jemima was instructed to slowly cajole the men into consciousness, they began to flit in and out of reality, sometimes being the aging grandpa and other times being the captain of the ship, riding the crests of waves alongside dolphins and whales, amidst a starlit sky. 

The beginning part of this exercise was accompanied to David Bowie's Lets Dance, for the lyrics, as Stella revealed perfectly captured the love she felt for her dad and perhaps just how hard it is to watch a person you deeply care about slowly leave you.

 Because my love for you, would break my heart in two; if you should fall into my arms and tremble like a flower


Session 2

Stella arrived ready and prepped for her second session with a narrative structure based upon her story, Grandad's House.......

At the end of the road, across the fields, through the wood, down the path, past the roses and the lavender bushes, you’ll find a house with a blue front door.  Grandad's home.

Welcome. It’s a magical house.  A place where past and present hold hands and everything is old and everything is new. Come on in, come aboard.

Grandad is a sea captain.  He sails his ship under the sun and the stars, through great waves and calm seas, with flying fish and huge, blue skies. 

Come and join him.  Pore over the charts, the maps and the compass, follow the stars to lands far away, hold his hand, find Grandad there.

In Grandad’s world clouds of memories float by, some of them close, some just out of reach. Soft memories filled with feelings and dreams which float just above.

Come, hold Grandad’s hand, you can catch them together.

In this cloud is a whale which swims with the ship for miles through deep waters, and dolphins which dance in the spray on a bright, gentle day. And here are the sails that flap in the breeze and the sound of the gulls and the taste of salt spray, mixed with spices and fruits from lands far away.

Catch the clouds in your hands, draw them gently around you both, for you will find Grandad there.

And here is the cat, a sailor too, who lives on the ship and grows fat on the fish, chases rats from the stores and purrs on the deck beneath the tropical sun. Bring her close to Grandad, let him hold her in his arms as she purrs and dreams of that deck and those rats and the fish and the sun, then you will find him there.

Today it is night in Grandad’s house. The curtains are closed, the lights are off. Come on in, find a lamp to shine in the dark, and sit by his side, and remember the sea. Ask him the names of the stars in the sky, ask him to tell you of the storms he sailed through, ask him to sing you the songs of the sea. Listen and learn and sing by his side. Come take his hand, you will find Grandad there.

Today it is foggy in Grandad’s house, he is lost in the mists in a land far away. He can’t find his ship or the sea or the stars, he looks for the whale and the dolphins that dance.

So come, take his hand and lead him aboard, fetch him the charts, the maps and the compass, sail together across that stormy sea. Come take his hand, enter his world. You will find Grandad there.

Today there is laughter in Grandad’s house. Sit in the sun with the cat who purrs, listen to stories and songs of the past, and tell him the tales you have learned in this day.Let the past and the present join hands, everything is old and everything is new. Come take his hand. You will find Grandad there.


Stella picked out the key events from her story that she wanted to have represented through the dance.  

Sea Landscape – 3 dancers
granddad is part of the sea, caught in the sea of time

He’s lost in the sea, a shell of what he was
I want the audience to connect to the fact that he is a person, a human being with a story –

That story is being brought out by his granddaughter – and she needs to connect into his world and find a place where they can be

And that place is the ship

Where he is in control of the ship

She becomes part of that game – they find a place to connect, where they can celebrate who he is and where he is 

Children just accept situations – they just unquestionably play the game because they are willing to suspend disbelief

Sound Artist Gav Hoare was invited into the process to help Stella create a soundscore for the dance.  Using Stella's narrative structure the score is underpinned by sounds of the ocean, sea shanty's and David Bowie's Lets Dance.