News

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

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

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.

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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