Step by step with Kristi-Leigh Gresse

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Kristi-Leigh Gresse tells us more about how dance has shaped her life, Photo: Supplied
Kristi-Leigh Gresse tells us more about how dance has shaped her life, Photo: Supplied


Dance seems to be a world of fun we all enjoy, a world of wonder and bliss – so much so that some take it further and pursue dance professionally.

Such is the case for the current Standard Bank Young Artist Award winner for dance, Kristi-Leigh Gresse, whose latest dance venture will see a collaboration between her and songstress Msaki.

The singer’s next show, called Platinumb Heart, will be on Bassline Live at the Lyric Theatre on Friday, February 25.

READ: Take a peek at Msaki’s art exhibition

Gresse seems always to have had her eye on this specific prize, having started dancing at the tender age of four in Durban. After finding out that her school offered dance, she aimed for the stars and joined.

“I’ve seen and felt inspiration from all over, locally and internationally, from Pina Bausch, Liliane Loots, Luyanda Sidiya and many more. I don’t just draw inspiration from other dancers and choreographers, but also from a variety of musicians, authors, theatre directors, writers and other art practitioners,” she says.

A brief glance at Gresse tells you all you need to know about her dance style. With a bald head and a stature that looks almost Amazonian, she takes a bold approach to every step she takes in her routines, drawing her audience members in almost instantaneously.

“I often find it challenging to define my style.” Gresse says:

I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to many different ways of moving and many different genres of dance.

I like to think of my style a hybrid form. I’m definitely influenced by many different elements and techniques that form the movements and an overall aesthetic of my work. I seek to tell stories of, first, what it means to be a woman and then what it means to be human,” says Gresse.

Her next gig is sure to be an exciting one. While Msaki rose to prominence through her smash hit with Prince Kaybee, Fetch Your Life, in her earlier days, many of her live concerts reflect her indie and folk roots, making this the ideal collaboration with Gresse and one sure to elevate both women’s performances.

“I started by listening to Msaki’s album on repeat and allowing myself to understand how her music makes me feel. Then she and I found moments to share ideas on the creative process. From there, I began to embody the emotions and then form those movements into a structure that would ultimately create the choreography. The way my body moves is one of my greatest gifts and I just want to interpret her music in my own form.” Gresse says:

I want to use my body as a means to explore the story she tells with her music and, in turn, express my own interpretation of them.

Since her Standard Bank Young Artist win, Gresse is on the fast track to becoming one of South Africa’s most prominent choreographers and dancers. Following the beat of her own drum, she hopes her work will continue speaking (or, rather, dancing) for itself, sparking a form of healing in the people who watch her perform.

Her next artistic venture will see her ongoing national tour of the theatre piece, Sullied. Choreographed by Gresse, it takes an intimate look at rape, toxic masculinity and gender inequality in the form of dance and spoken word.

“I can’t wait to get back to that,” she says. “Cape Town’s definitely ready for it. The performance is at the Theatre Arts in Observatory from 8 to 10 March. I’m also preparing some work for the National Arts Festival in Makhanda [formerly Grahamstown], but keep up with my social media posts – we’re headed for big things!” she says.


Janice Phiri  

Culture Writer

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park
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