Unity Phelan and director Chad Stahelski on the set of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Photo by Niko Tavernise, Courtesy Lionsgate

A John Wick Spin-Off Centered on a Ballerina-Turned-Assassin Is Happening

When New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan appeared as a ballerina training to become an assassin in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum earlier this year, it could have easily been a one-off. This particular backstory has become prevalent at the movies over the last few years—take Jennifer Lawrence's character in Red Sparrow and Natasha Romanov, aka Black Widow, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though it's become its own trope, it's also been dealt with in a fairly cursory manner.

But we had an inkling that this might not be the last we heard of the idea in the John Wick franchise—and it seems our suspicions that Parabellum was testing the waters for a female-led, ballet-infused spin-off were correct.


A thin white woman in pointe shoes and a white leotard and skirt ensemble balances en pointe in second position. Her arms are at her side, elbows pulled back, and her head is dropped to look at the floor in front of her. Dark, intricate tattoos are visible across her back, above the edge of the scoop-back leotard. Beyond the stage, the red seats of an opulent theater are empty, save for a figure seated at a table midway in the orchestra. Unity Phelan in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.Niko Tavernise, Courtesy Lionsgate

According to Deadline, a project set in the same universe, tentatively titled Ballerina, now has a director: Len Wiseman, who got his start with the Underworld series in the early 2000s. The script is being penned by Shay Hatten (who wrote Parabellum), based on a concept optioned by Lionsgate in 2017 that sees a young woman trained as both a ballerina and an assassin seek revenge against the people who killed her family. (For those unaware, that's a trope with which the John Wick franchise is quite familiar.)

While there's no word yet on a potential release window (the fourth installment in the Keanu Reeves–led franchise is due in 2021), the fact that there is already a director involved means that this movie is really happening.

Casting is unknown at this point, though Parabellum did lay the groundwork for Anjelica Huston to reprise her role as The Director—the woman behind the program that turns young ballerinas into femme fatales (à la the Red Room in Marvel lore, which we'll hopefully be seeing more of in next year's Black Widow solo film). Less clear is whether Phelan will be in the running to turn her cameo into a starring role. Hollywood has a history of leaning on dance doubles to stand in for established actresses, but we have to say we love the idea of seeing an actual dancer take the lead. True, it's likely that any dance sequences will be as perfunctory as they usually are in action flicks, but just imagine what that kind of facility could bring to the franchise's already over-the-top fight sequences.

Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

The Anatomy of Arabesque: Why Placement and Turnout Are Key to Achieving This Crucial Position

Audition for any school or company, and they'll likely ask for a photo in arabesque. The position not only reveals a great deal about a dancer's ability, but it is also a fundamental building block for more advanced movements, like penché or arabesque turn. Beyond technique, it can be the epitome of grace and elegance onstage, creating unforgettable images—just try to imagine Swan Lake or Balanchine's Serenade without an arabesque.

Yet many dancers are unsatisfied with their arabesque lines, and students frequently ask how to improve their extensions. (Social media posts of dancers with extreme flexibility don't help!) In an attempt to lift the back leg higher, dancers may sacrifice placement and unknowingly distort their position in the process. How can you improve the height of your back leg while maintaining proper placement and turnout? We talked to a few experts to better understand the science behind this step.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Coppélia" (1976)

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov share the unique experience of having danced at both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet during their careers. The two overlapped at ABT in the mid-'70s, where they developed one of the best-known partnerships in ballet. They were both celebrated for their dynamism onstage; however, in this 1976 clip of the pas de deux from Coppélia, Kirkland and Baryshnikov prove they are also masters of control.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks