Carolyn Paine keeps a busy schedule from coast to coast, but each year brings her Nutcracker Suite & Spicy home to Hartford.
Hartford to New Haven. New Haven to New York. New York to Boston. Boston to New Haven. New Haven to Hartford. What looks like a typical split-flap display in a train station is the actual working schedule of actress, comedienne, and dancer Carolyn Paine—whose oeuvre is a perfect storm of zany creativity, razor-sharp wit, and boundless energy.
What sets Paine apart is not that she has trained around the world with the likes of the Boston Ballet and the Academie de Danse Classique in Monaco. Nor is it that she is always on her toes, performing in huge productions like ABC’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. It’s not even that she has appeared on TV, on the pages of Vogue and Glamour, and in numerous showcases in Boston, Chicago, and New York City. What makes Paine unique is her love for Hartford and the fact she keeps the city as her home base, pouring her blood, sweat, and tears into the local tapestry of arts and culture.
A Boston native and graduate of the University of Hartford, Paine lives on the second floor of a charming turn-of-the-century Queen Anne in Hartford’s historic West End—a neighborhood that is equal parts quaint, bohemian, and gritty. Her apartment is a glorious hodge-podge of stunning flea market flips, cherished family heirlooms, and beloved relics from her career as a performer. The home serves as a stopover for Paine as she travels coast to coast, and all around New England and the tri-state area for stand-up gigs, filming and commercial shoots, and performances—including those with her dance company, CONNetic Dance.
“Hartford’s Ballet Hipsters,” as CONNetic has been called, is an interesting medley of dancers who are classically-trained, street-trained, and self-taught. The company’s repertoire is unique, pairing traditional technique with athletic choreography. Paine and her troupe are involved in myriad projects, and even partner with Hartford’s public schools to offer enrichment programs to students. But this time of year Paine can be found producing and directing CONNetic’s signature (and biggest) production: The Nutcracker Suite & Spicy.
Now in its eighth year, Suite & Spicy has struck a chord with the community. The diverse cast—many of whom have been with the production since its early days—truly represents the urban culture of Hartford. Says Paine, “I am proud to have created a show that not only reflects the amazing complexity of the city around me, it affords my neighbors the opportunity to see a dynamic, professional dance production in their own backyard rather than having to travel far from home, especially during the holidays.”
Though Paine’s typical week involves no fewer than three trips out of Hartford, she does relish her chosen home, and there are some quiet moments. The market up the street has “the best falafel and gummy bears in the state.” The nearest coffee joint also serves as a favorite Happy Hour spot. And the vine-covered backyard patio Carolyn and her roommate and fellow dancer/model Alex Zarlengo have cultivated over the past few years is now a coveted spot for after-hours conversations and even outdoor film screenings for their friends.
I once asked Paine why she lived in Hartford, with all of the engagements she has in other cities. She looked at me as though I had three heads. “It’s home.”