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.
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.
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.