The Choke

By Chris Fowles | Drama
A young dancer agonizes over how far to push a dangerous final move.

Simi is a dancer on the verge of opening night of an important prformance. But he’s struggling with a particularly emotionally difficult move right up to showtime.

Despite the choreographer’s extortations to surrender to the primal violence of the dance, Simi just can’t do it, held back by his own timidity as well as his unconfessed feelings for his fellow dancer Alanna.

But as Simi slow becomes jealous of the other men surrounding Alanna — and his own life offers very few avenues of understanding, connection and acceptance — he finds himself dealing with the growing intensity of his emotions for Alanna. But right before he goes onstage, he realizes just where he stands with his dance partner, leading to a dangerous, devastating pas de deux.

Director Chris Fowles and writer Geoff Gedroyc has constructed a dark cautionary tale about what has come to be called toxic masculinity, using emotionally perceptive writing, understated performances and a naturalistic visual approach to offer an intimate portrait of a young man struggling to reconcile who he is with what he desperately wants — and how he should go about getting it.

The excellently crafted short takes its time to carefully build Simi’s world and character, beginning with the milieu that he works and performs in. The creative world of dance, shot in dark, fantastical color and sweeping camerawork, is a pressure cooker of emotion, and this particular performance demands a brutality that Simi doesn’t naturally possess. He also struggles with the burden of being in a milieu regarded as untraditional for a straight male, one where he often feels himself emasculated by the assumptions around him, and his own inability to confess his feelings to Alanna.

Actor Alistair Toovey deftly plays Simi’s sense of yearning and hesitation that underlies many of his actions. The performance is quite self-contained, but Simi’s inwardness doesn’t come from temperament or character, but from fear and shame. When those feelings become too much to bear, they find a release on stage, making for a riveting, invested performance by the young male dancer — and a dangerous moment between him and the woman he’s in love with.

The ending of “The Choke” is one where the elements of film craft come together in a powerful swell of music, performance, editing, and image, all woven together to render a powerfully, bitterly ironic and heartwrenching answer to the film’s overarching dilemma, both for Simi and for the audience. It leaves viewers with an uneasy sense of just how easily a sense of helplessness and anger can escalate into an act of violence. The line between performance and real life is thin for Simi — as is the line between powerlessness and rage.

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