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iwan gunawan - aafke de jong -muenchner stadtmuseum-villa waldberta 2017-2_edited_edited_e

Canto Ostinato for gamelan and dance (working title: MOMENTUM*) will be a unique performance of Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt's masterpiece Canto Ostinato by a Javanese gamelan orchestra and five contemporary dancers.

Struck by the many similarities between the mesmerizing repetitive patterns of Canto Ostinato and gamelan, composer Iwan Gunawan and choreographer Aafke de Jong - who already worked together before** - are combining their efforts once again.​


In line with Ten Holt's wishes, special attention is paid to the challenging interaction between the artists. The composition leaves room to make decisions on the spot, which makes every performance one of a kind. The impressive instruments of the Javanese gamelan - both in sight and in sound - organically arranged with the mystical movements, light and costumes will make the performance an experience that will resonate for a long time.

This websites gives a deeper insight about our aims and motivation. We hope you will enjoy reading as much as we enjoy realizing this project!

​​Duration and number of performances

Ten Holt allows his performers a certain degree of freedom, for instance in determining the length of the piece, as is the case with some composers of so called  'minimal music' (e.g. Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Riley). The performance therefor will have an indefinite duration. Naturally taking into account the wishes of venues, programmers and audiences, our interpretation of Canto Ostinato will last approximately 75 minutes from beginning to end.


International tour

Gunawan and De Jong want to work towards an international tour and aim for a minimum of ten performances, of which at least three in the Netherlands, some in other European countries like Belgium, Germany and Spain, a few in the United States (where gamelan is relatively popular) and of course in Indonesia. Providing multiple performances will not only enlarge the enthusiasm for Canto Ostinato and gamelan alike around the globe, it also helps cover the expenses involved in such an international project.

*Momentum is the power behind every creation, the decisive moment to follow through with something - the original meaning in Latin is 'pressure', 'push' or 'thrust'.

**This piece was called 'GONG'  - for the Münchner Stadtmuseum in 2018 and for UPI University in Bandung in 2023


A shared experience between music, dance and audience

Gunawan and De Jong prioritize the core values secured in the music of Simeon ten Holt. The physical experience of his music became his starting point. Ten Holt wanted to feel again! The addition of dancers to the music of Canto Ostinato is therefore a choice that fits like a glove.

​​Gunawan and De Jong want to emphasize the openness and spaciousness that Ten Holt brought to the composition. Just as the musicians can agree on certain signs with each other, so can the dancers. It logically follows that musicians and dancers can also influence each other. Sometimes the music is leading, at other times the dancers take the initiative. There is therefor a co-responsibility between musicians and dancers. This is but one example of an analogy with the functioning of a gamelan orchestra. ​

​​The gamelan ensemble

Ideally, Gunawan will make an arrangement for seventeen players, so that the stratification and beauty of a gamelan ensemble - ranging from the deepest gongs to the highest pitch of the smaller metallophones - can be done justice. Gunawan will bring about half of the musicians of his own ensemble Kyai Fatahillah from Bandung, Indonesia, supplemented by professional musicians from the Netherlands. ​​

A driving force

First and foremost, working with live music will give an enormous energy to the dancers, who are often used to working with digital recordings. 'Canto Ostinato is not interchangeable. Especially performed live, the music is the driving force for the dancers and vice versa' says De Jong.


​​Music that starts with the body

Ten Holt's comment about his composition process - 'You start with your body' - appeals to De Jong as a choreographer. During the initial research with the dancers in the studio, she wants to take the music as a starting point and see how it triggers their bodies - their internal movement. This will be different for each dancer. From there we will look to what unites them.



Audience members as wel as performers of Canto Ostinato often refer to Canto Ostinato as being a 'cosmic' experience. The repeating, ever slightly shifting patterns are reminiscent of life itself, in which everything is constantly moving in cycles. The musical time signature of Canto Ostinato can be divided into two times five, one line going up and one going down, like a question and answer pinciple. In physics the pentagon figure (a form with five angles of the same length) cannot repeat itself endlessly as can triangles, squares and hexagons. This makes the number 5 a bit of 'sacred' number. Yet Ten Holt uses five tones to create his repetitive patters. And it has inspired many artists and physicians alike (for example M.C. Escher and Gerard Caris). ​We are also all familiar with the 5-element theory which assumes that everything that lives is made up of water, wood, fire, earth and metal. They are symbols for life, for nature. Reason enough for De Jong to work with five dancers.

A landscape of light

In the multidisciplinary performances of AFK Away From Keyboard (the initiative of Aafke de Jong), image and environment play a major role. The choice of art forms stem from a certain necessity and are all on equal footing. For the stage image, depending on the possibilities of the location in question, the artists want to realize the idea that during the performance we are in a time acceleration or a time deceleration. Therefore, the light design will be an important aspect of the performance. This, together with the movements - loosely inspired by the turns of Dervishes - as well as the costumes and the repetitive patterns of the music, contribute to the realization that we all participate in the same universal circular movement. 

Listen to an interpretation of Canto Ostinato on Javanese gamelan by Iwan Gunawan

[duration: 1 min.]

Canto Ostinato for gamelan

Canto Ostinato for gamelan

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