(dis)association : a performative investigation into separation, dissociation and detachment / L. S. Merritt Millman (2017)

(dis)association : a performative investigation into separation, dissociation and detachment

Author: L. S. Merritt Millman

Course: MA Choreography

Year: 2017

Keywords: Choreographic process, Choreographic research, Depersonalization disorder, Installations, Performance based research, Performance theory,


“(dis)association” is a performative investigation into separation, dissociation, and detachment using movement, haptic film and soundscape. The dissociated state of depersonalization disorder is examined to create new choreographic and filmic perspectives, culminating in an artistic event shown in the Laban Studio Theatre as part of the Graduate School Showcase, July 2017.

Its presentation as a live installation attempts to distinguish itself from a literal translation or physicalization of depersonalization and towards the expression of dissociation as an immersive, installation-like environment. It was possible to negotiate a way of understanding this process, both visually and performatively, by assuming the roles of choreographer, filmmaker, director, and producer, enabling a unified and coherent vision.
The theoretical research includes a review of depersonalization disorder, digital practices focusing on haptic film, presence and embodiment, and related choreographic efforts. Case studies and other sources on depersonalization disorder were used as a point of experience to develop the different elements of the work, both to communicate this state to the observer and to develop an environment creating a similar perspective on these notions of dissociation.

A deep understanding of the disorder was the basis for collaborative experimentation in studio, including choreographed and guided improvised movement. Negotiations of presence and embodiment and questions of inhibition and performance quality were crucial to the immersion of the solo performer into the dissociative atmosphere. The hapticity of the filmed material relates to many accounts of the depersonalized experience, where a need to affirm the tangibility of one’s physicality is present. The development and inclusion of haptic film with its possibility for fragmentation and continuity was explored both outside and in studio.

The mode of projection, pace and rhythm of the filmic imagery, and organization of the shots create a haptic atmosphere rather than producing something theatrical. In the final work, the live and virtual interfaces cross-contaminate, resulting in an extension of the performing body and shifting visual textures. The performer seemingly becomes a trace of herself, aligning and misaligning with the filmic image.

The conclusion suggests the possibility of the event generating a wider awareness of this disorder. For those affected by depersonalization, the work may reveal something of the myriad complexity of the disconnection of feelings and actions and the altered sense of self that dissociation creates. It is possible to further extend the research into other areas of mental disorder, and contribute to the body of knowledge around performative investigations of mental illness.

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Millman, L. S. Merritt. (2017). (dis)association : a performative investigation into separation, dissociation and detachment (Masters’ theses). Retrieved https://researchonline.trinitylaban.ac.uk/oa/thesis/?p=242