Kids tap into new movement
VCA Secondary School dance performance using iPads. Photo: Wayne Taylor
THE theatre is in Stygian darkness. Silence reigns. Then we hear the soft sibilance of feet brushing the stage as the dancers move into position.
The music starts - Vangelis playing The Dragon, a psychic piece of heavy bass notes and throbbing rhythms - and suddenly we see three lines of illuminated disembodied heads moving in unison across the stage. The heads become candles, swaying to the music, then join into a central flame, switch again into a diagonal line of light and shapes that become a spiral, then a wave, and on it goes; an original ballet of moving, dancing lights making shapes, showing faces, hands, forming bubbles, fires and fluorescent bars.
It was dramatic and absorbing, and also brilliant when you know that 13 and 14-year-old students in year 8 at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School (VCASS) performed it, had a vital part in creating it, and did it with their iPads. Who said the iPad was simply a content-consumption device?
This was creation in spades, each student using their iPad and half a dozen or so apps to generate images and light sources; all the more impressive because of the precision of the light-dance and the close co-ordination as they switched their iPads from one app to the next to create new images, colours and animations.
The school's leading teacher of contemporary dance, Steven McTaggart, who supervised the creation and the choreography of iDance, as they call their performance, says this is just the beginning.
''We see now there are so many ways we can use the iPad as a tool; as an extension of the dancers' bodies,'' he says. ''This is our first foray into using the iPad as a dance performance tool. Already we have collated more ideas and concepts to explore than we have had time to realise. We will explore other ways in which the iPad can be incorporated into dance-making - in the composition of soundscapes and music, bringing images, information and sound into the dance space.''
But it isn't only dancers who have harnessed iPad culture in the school. Musicians use a variety of virtual instruments and apps. Several iPad bands have sprung up. Dancers film their movements for instant replay to check and refine their movements.
In class, students take snapshots of blackboard notes rather than write them on paper. Ideas can be recorded instantly, wherever students happen to be when inspiration strikes.
''It's the disruptive technology teachers have wanted for a long time but which, for them, did not properly arrive until the iPad,'' VCASS vice-principal Hilary Bland says. ''It is a wonderful companion and helper. Within 15 minutes of seeing it for the first time and watching students using it, we just said: 'Wow!'''
The school was one of the first in the world to use iPads, getting its first batch on the Australian launch day midway through 2010 as part of the Department of Education's iPad trial for year 7 pupils.
Every student from years 7 to 9 at the school has an iPad and many others have brought in their own, Bland says.
VCASS has an extensive wi-fi network allowing sharing of project work and ideas throughout the school community. Use of iPads in education in Victoria is one of the highest in the world.
VCASS also uses Apple TVs (the little black set-top boxes) to put iPad content on video screens in classrooms and around the school. ''It's very easy to share work immediately,'' Bland says.