by MIKE CHAIKEN
As a trained dancer, Connecticut’s Carolyn Paine had danced in her share of productions of “The Nutcracker.”
Although she couldn’t imagine a holiday season without the ballet, Paine also was bored with it.
“The story, the costumes, the music, all felt very old to me,” Paine said.
Since she wasn’t quite ready to surrender all thoughts of “The Nutcracker,” Paine had an idea. She thought it would be cool to revamp the ballet as “something fun that used more contemporary music and dance styles but still held onto the tradition”
“As soon as I started to think about it, I had all these great ideas,” said Paine.
The result was called “The Nutcracker Suite and Spicy.”
As Paine intended, the CONNetic Dance production mines all manners of dancing, such as ballet and hip-hop. The interpretations of the “The Nutcracker” soundtrack also integrates all manners of musical genres. The opening party sequence of the original ballet has been transformed into an ugly sweater party full of drunk guests. “The Waltz of the Snowflakes” is played out on large white inflatable exercise balls.
The untraditional approach to the holiday ballet is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. It opens on Dec. 20 in Hartford.
Getting the idea for an alternative universe version of “The Nutcracker” was one thing but pulling it off was another.
“The biggest challenge the first year was getting potential audiences to understand what the show was about and get them to come,” said Paine. “Additionally, I struggled with just not having the budget or time to truly realize my vision.”
Eventually, however, a version of what Paine envisioned made it to the stage.
“That first year, when we took our final bows, I was just so elated that we had actually pulled it off,” said Paine. “And I was exhausted.”
“But the sense that the show had built up an audience and fan base and truly had created something that could build from there was so remarkable and satisfying,” sad Paine.
“I was just anxious to keep going and start on the next year-after getting a month of sleep,” said Paine.
Paine had ideas on how she wanted to improve things after that first incarnation of the ballet.
“I knew I wanted to add more effects and magic,” said Paine.
Eventually, Paine found a formula that worked for her.
“A lot about this show has stayed the same over the years and that is important when you are creating a tradition,” said Paine. “But I have also allowed a lot about the show to evolve over the years as well so that it stays fresh.”
“I try to respond to cultural trends and movements through the characters and choreography,” said Paine.
“When we were facing the #metoo movement, I made sure to revamp the scenes with Clara (the ballet’s heroine) to make her a more independent woman,” said Paine. The choreography also has been made more challenging over time.
Paine said she knew she would try to make “The Nutcracker Suite and Spicy” a Connecticut holiday tradition.
“I went into the show hoping we could make it stick with audiences,” said Paine. “And year after year, I love that it really is part of the holiday season now for so many people. It is such a privilege and honor and I hope we can continue to bring this show to audiences for years to come.
With 10 years under “The Nutcracker: Suite and Spicy’s” belt, Paine now sees the possibility of performing the show at venues beyond Connecticut.
“Hartford will always be its home, but I think this is the kind of show that really can appeal to broad audiences so I would like that to be the next big steps for this show,” said Paine.
As part of the celebration of the anniversary of “The Nutcracker Suite and Spicy,” a document has been filmed by Cine Verite Productions, “The Nutcracker Suite & Spicy: 10 Years in the Making.” The behind the scenes piece premiered this month.
“The Nutcracker Suite and Spicy” will be performed in the Aetna Theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum, 600 Main St., Hartford on Friday at 8 p.m. Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.