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Kristi-Leigh Gresse challenges gender and body politics through dance

Kristi-Leigh Gresse. Picture: Supplied

Kristi-Leigh Gresse. Picture: Supplied

Published Oct 2, 2021


Contemporary dance artist Kristi-Leigh Gresse says winning the 2021 Standard Bank Young Artist award in the Dancer category is a great honour for her and the dance fraternity.

Gresse joins a prestigious list of artists who have been recognised since the first SBYA award in 1981, and the alumni of the programme have shaped South Africa’s arts landscape, while also boosting the creative economy over the years.

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Each year, the announcement of the recipients is highly anticipated across the country’s arts sector and this year was no different when the big reveal was done early this month.

“When I received the call to inform me that I was a Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance 2021 I was completely speechless. I couldn’t find the words to respond immediately as I was in complete shock and disbelief,” offers the multi-award winning dancer.

“Then when the public announcement happened there was a flood of emotions that I still struggle to put into words.

“I was no longer an anonymous artist keeping her head down and staying focused on her craft but I became a representative for my home KZN (KwaZulu-Natal) and for all the young artists working hard to create a place for themselves and their art in this industry.

Gresse says being crowned this year’s winner of the coveted SBYA is a dream come true.

“This award has been something I aspired to for many years and now to be a part of this incredible lineage is still something that causes me to smile from ear to ear nearly every moment of every day.

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“I am proud to be a part of this moment in our history and I am honoured to be a part of this year’s incredibly talented and dynamic group of individuals.”

Kristi-Leigh Gresse. Picture: Supplied

She says the prestigious award means further growth and development for her artistic vision and voice.

“It means standing up and becoming a representative for other young artists who are working towards changing the landscape of this industry, to better support and nurture the talent and future of the arts.

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“It also means not shying away from the challenges we face both as individuals in this world but also the challenges we face as a collective.

“This award means becoming a part of a brave and bold lineage of artists who have, and are working towards, the growth and recognition of the South African arts industry both locally and internationally.”

Gresse’s works are often centred around gender and body politics. Lately, she’s been exploring notions around identity and how these “notions affect our bodies, how we carry ourselves through everyday life and how we interact” with one another.

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“Being a woman I have always felt strongly about using my art as an offering to work through what moments in our lives greatly affect us as women from living a full and content life.

“I can never ignore that the world has a great number of issues that need to be spoken about and desire people to have honest and authentic representation in the arts but I feel I am doing myself and other women a disservice if I choose to shy away from speaking about what I am passionate about.”

Kristi-Leigh Gresse. Picture: Supplied

The KwaZulu-Natal born dancer draws inspiration from a diverse group of industry giants including Akram Khan, Gregory Maqoma, Dada Masilo, Liane Loots, Luyanda Sidiya and Thandazile Sonia Radebe.

“It is not just dancers and choreographers that have influenced my artistic journey. Music, film, books, even everyday life plays a vital role in where and who I draw inspiration from.

“Just as life is a complex network of experience, so too, I believe, should be how and where we draw our inspiration from as artists.”

Gresse has been dancing since the age of four, all thanks to her musically enthusiastic parents.

“My passion for the arts has been in my life before I can remember but the moment when I chose this path as my own was in my first year at university.

“I had started to study Psychology as I didn’t listen to my mother or my instincts when they were telling me to pursue a degree in the arts.

“I ended up taking drama and performance arts as an elective and four years later I graduated with an arts degree and a month later I began my professional career by joining the Playhouse Dance Residency.

“It was at this moment that I knew my passion was no longer just a hobby but the reason I wake up every morning knowing that I am an artist and this is the career path I am meant to take.”

She won a Standard Bank Ovation Gold Award for Sullied at the National Arts Festival in 2018 and went on to win the South East Dance Award at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2019, before being commissioned to produce a dance screen offering for the digital JOMBA! Festival in 2020.

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