The amazing achievements made by the musical theater department are a huge source of pride for the KO community. The program has received numerous accolades, including winning Best Musical in the state of Connecticut from the Halo Awards for the second year in a row. Today, I’ll be talking about KO’s dance department, which is a very successful new addition.
It’s hard to believe that just five years ago the KO dance department didn’t exist. There was no Choreographer’s Showcase, and there were no opportunities for student dancers to hone their training at KO. That all changed when Director of Theater Kyle Reynolds and his vision for dance arrived at KO in 2018.
“I have to appreciate how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Dance is now becoming a central focus and a part of Kingswood Oxford’s signature programs,” Students involved in the Choreographer’s Showcase get the opportunity to work one-on-one with local dancers from the Greater Hartford area who are trained in jazz, modern, ballet, hip hop, lyrical, among other genres.
For Mr. Reynolds, keeping KO’s core values and strategic vision in mind has always been an integral part of the Choreographer’s Showcase. To quote directly from the KO strategic vision, “Kingswood Oxford is a transformative day school that engages students in real-world and interdisciplinary learning opportunities by expanding the classroom beyond our campus and partnering with people and institutions in the Greater Hartford area.”
What many don’t know is that Mr. Reynolds’ process for planning the Choreographer’s Showcase lasts all year long. For reference, every Choreographer’s Showcase premiers right before Thanksgiving break. The week before the performances, infamously known as tech week, is the most intense rehearsal period for everyone involved. It demands long hours of running the dances over and over again using different lighting, as well as practicing complex costume changes. This is when Mr. Reynolds begins planning out the next year’s Choreographer’s Showcase.
“I think about which choreographers connected best with our kids,” he said, “and what styles of dance we might need to improve our community’s level of technique and training for next year.” Mr. Reynolds spends his summers interviewing and making connections with local choreographers, scheduling rehearsals, and networking. He’s also planning out the Winter Musical or running the theater and dance programs at Camp KO.
Despite all of the time and effort Mr. Reynolds puts into bolstering dance at KO, he said he humbly owes much of his success to the senior class, who have been a part of the program since the very first Choreographer’s Showcase. “I’m so grateful to the senior class,” he said. “We’ve locked arms and just decided that we are going to do this thing, and we’re going to do it well, no matter how hard it is and how many obstacles are in front of us.”
Although it will be difficult to say goodbye to the senior class, Mr. Reynolds is excited to usher in a new wave of KO dancers. “[Dance at KO] is not just for the elite,” he said. “We will welcome you as a Form 3 student, and by Form 6 you will have the very best training and technique that is unlike any other high school or independent school in our area.”
Mr. Reynolds explained that while he was never given these same opportunities as a kid, he feels compelled to pay it forward to the next generation and give kids the kind of opportunities that he would have loved as a teenager. “If there is a 13-year-old kid who likes to dance or has an interest in dance, I just know that I’m running a program that’s for them,” he said.
Mr. Reynolds shared that his goal has been to fill in the gaps in the dance and theater departments at KO. He used ballet as an example. Since ballet is considered the foundation of all styles of dance, he knew that it would need to be an integral part of his students’ training. Now, any KO student in the Choreographer’s Showcase can take ballet classes two times a week in the dance studio.
Additionally, Mr. Reynolds noted that improving dance at KO can only help our musicals even more. “If we’re going to say that we have a great musical theater department,” he said, “I want to run a department that has good training and technique, and I need dance to be a part of that.”
In addition to hiring local choreographers, Mr. Reynolds choreographs his own piece every year. This year, his piece features seniors Bella Theodorou and Frank Pu. “[They] are going to tell a really compelling story through physicality and movement that I am excited for the school to see,” he said. Mr. Reynolds didn’t give away any more about the dance, so you’ll have to come to the Choreographer’s Showcase yourself if you want to see what his piece is all about.
Although he’s already made huge strides to create dance at KO, Mr. Reynolds never stops planning for the future and seeing ways we can improve. “I want it to be on the map,” he said. “When people think KO, I want them to think about theater and dance, and I think that we’re getting there if not already there a little bit.”
In many ways, we’ve already put our name on the map. Throughout my three-plus years at KO, it’s been a privilege to watch the KO dance program flourish and see myself, as well as my peers, begin to reach our greatest potential under Mr. Reynolds’ expertise. Although it will be sad to leave it behind after this year, I know that there are still great things in store for any student wishing to pursue dance at KO. Thanks to Mr. Reynolds, even the shyest of students can learn how to shine as dancers in Roberts Theater.