Change Minds Online 2022: Frederick Robert Fogden, my creative response by Amelia True
I planned to do a written creative response to my research into Frederick. However as I sat down to write I found myself listing, in order, the emotional trauma and possible responses I thought Frederick may have experienced throughout his life.
I found it a struggle to find the words to articulate the complexity of his possible experience and found it even more challenging to articulate the recurring themes such as the pull and push of marriage and parenthood whilst relapsing into severe mental illness.
Of course all of my creative interpretations of the research are supposition based on my own, and observed experiences. Many of the ideas I am unable to represent because of a lack of camera and editing skill, and the need of partners / groups plus my own physical limitations. I will endeavour to demonstrate my ideas by explaining the reasoning behind my choices and with short extracts of video.
The lead dancer represents my interpretation of Frederick's experience at different times of his life whilst other dancers represent different relationships/pressures.
My initial choreography considered Frederick's childhood and how his mental illness may have started to appear and may have impacted his mental health's stability. With 4 older brothers and 2 younger sisters, the household would have been busy and I imagine Frederick may have felt a part of the family, yet also always slightly behind and racing to catch up with his older siblings.
The duet begins in unison with strong, fast dynamic movements involving a full extension of limbs and reciprocal focus between the dancers.
I was curious about his childhood, and the possible trauma from his brother's death, aged 6, when Frederick was 4, with the more recent understanding of how early trauma can make people more susceptible to mental illness in later life.
Mistrust edges in as Frederick begins losing outward focus. The mutual pressure into each other's back that should raise each dancer fails; a different method to rise is found. However Frederick may have had lower resilience and has already begun focusing on his internal experience. Shown through the shift in focus, body position and differing choreography to demonstrate the disconnect and the desperation F may have felt as he felt himself being distanced from his family through his own experiences.
The partner's choreography repeats with a focus remaining on F, unable and unknowing how to approach him as Frederick attempts to censor himself, his mouth is covered, then an internal pressure pushes his hands away, then again covering his mouth. Moving backwards diagonally, away from the audience and behind his partner, until his hands are forcing and contorting his own body into action. Demonstrating how even his own physical experiences are disconnected from him. The utter disconnect between the experience of 2 dancers in place.
I imagined the shock of going from a busy working class household in London to working as an indoor servant at St Brides in Wales. The impact of being wrenched from all he knew into an entirely new way of life and demands upon him. And then a "most unkind" Head Butler when all the things that may have supported Fredericks mental and emotional wellbeing were unavailable to him. Choreographically F moves using the solidity of his partner to move to the floor but they each remain alone.
When Frederick arrived at the Bethlem he was recorded as being timid, confused, incoherent, with delusional thoughts.
My improvisation was based on my own and observed experiences, plus my interpretation of Frederick's own possible experience of mental illness, his time in the Bethlem and in later life, the Banstead Asylum. Although in 1888 there weren't psychiatric medications patients were often sedated; I imagined the confusion, brain fog and sense of unfamiliarity, plus intrusive hallucinations and thoughts constantly pulling Frederick's attention.
The 'spider' hand represents the feeling of insects under the skin and how it merges with the wider world, an idea that exists only in Frederick's mind. Then there are periods of coherence and competence, which are disrupted or are part of awkward transitions.
The slow steps come from the sense of disconnect, being forced to join other patients, the solidarity yet isolation of each patient. In my mind I had a group of other 'patients' ready to begin their own movements and choreography, both individually and in unison. Ending with night time and the sleeping/waking nightmares of each patient's experience. Another person taking the role of nightmares as the movements work both together and in opposition to each other.
Frederick's adult life was a cycle of recovery and relapse. Even when working and 'well' he is registered on the Parish of Fulham's register of lunatics. Complicated by responsibilities towards his wife and 3 children. We don't know much about their lives apart from his children entering the Fulham Poorhouse system aged 7,5 and 2, until their mother is able to withdraw them from the residential system 4 months later. However they remain within the poorhouse schooling system whilst their Father remains in Banstead Asylum for the next 10 years.
Considering the struggle between his wife, children and his mental illness, I made the movements stronger, developing a more fractured feel.
It starts with swings and rebounds that develop into slicing the air to face away from his family. The focus then follows the hand rather than the interpersonal connections present at the very start. The head following the extended arm movements, as if being controlled F ends up again on the floor.
The hand creeps out of his foetal curl, then forcing his leg into motion, the illness again forcing him into movement.
The X shape on the floor brought to mind the desperation and reaching for connections from within the isolation of mental illness.
Throughout this piece there is the shrinking of extended limbs to shortened movements as Frederick's depression shrinks his world view.
The choreography begins as a duet, then his wife is off stage as F fights his own demons, during the development of the 'reaching/throwing' motif, Frederick is on the floor and using his shoulder and elbow, rather than the full range of motion when there was unison and trust between Frederick and his wife. Without the full extension it is impossible for Frederick to hold onto his family or wellness. The 'slice' motion leads Frederick into a low level weight transfer, then F joins his fellow patients, walking, as if sedated, in unison. Each individual in isolation, but back into formation; like the recurrent theme of their nightmares.
With different resources I would have developed the group's slow walk into each patient using parts of the choreographic exploration, repeated and developed. Whilst exploring the relationships between people with mental illness, their carers and each other.