Individuals Making Waves in the Community: Volume One
Updated: Feb 17, 2021
By Hayley Grassler
A lot of people have spent the past 10 months getting to know themselves better. Over at ITP, we have decided to use this opportunity to get to know one another, too. So many of Atlanta’s artists have whittled out their own nook to showcase their talents. And, to my surprise, people in this space have more in common than you might think. Whether it’s an apparently ubiquitous love of Cartoon Network (special shout out to unexpected favorite Ed, Edd n Eddy), or a tenuous gratitude towards the forced rest brought on by COVID-19 restrictions, there’s a lot of commonality in an artistic space defined by individualism. In the first article of our series, Individuals Making Waves in our Community, we’d like to showcase the contributions and creative processes of some of Atlanta’s most motivated artists.
Nominated for the breadth of his commitments and the wide range of companies and individuals that his music has touched.
Xavier Lewis is the type of artist who can’t quite be packed into one genre. Full of warmth and light, he is known for his dedication to his craft, his positivity and inclusivity, and for his monumentally positive impact on his students. He’s been heavily involved in choreography, dancing, acting, writing and music production for over 10 years. His energy is uncontainable, his spirit is undefinable, and his desire to push others in his community to keep going is deeply admirable. Despite his extensive and star-studded resume, he remains humble when it comes to discussing the opportunities he’s secured in the arts world, saying:
Any time I get any type of opportunity in that realm, it just reminds
me that it’s possible. I remember there was a time where I didn’t have
any of those things, and I was wondering how I was going to get them,
and how anyone without a college degree and without formal dance
training was going to be able to convince people that I was worthy
enough to have them. Even still, even in present day, if I have those
opportunities present themselves, I think about them and I am grateful
for them but I don’t like to dwell on them because I don’t want to get
comfortable. There are so many more things that I want to do, so I try not
to sit in them and be so comfortable. I want to make sure I’m still pushing.
Given this drive, those who know him may not be surprised by his answer when asked what his favorite thing about himself is. According to Xavier, "You know what it is? I don’t quit. That has been very helpful in my career as an artist. There have been plenty of times where it would have been easier to stop. But, you know, I didn’t. So I guess not quitting."
In exploring that unwavering drive to dance and create and entertain, Xavier finds inspiration in everything and nothing at the same time. Xavier spoke to me about nature, the motivation he finds in and admiration he has for his talented partner (Marybeth Stinson), and his fear of living life sucked into a screen. Xavier also offered a different take on how the recent pandemic restrictions have impacted him, not only as an artist but as a person, saying,
It made me take sh*t way more seriously. First of all, it made everyone sit
down and think about and consider everything. It made me hunker down
and work on guitar more and get my affairs in order. Everyone always says,
‘Oh, I wish I had more time’...So it was like ‘Okay here’s all the time you’ve
been asking for, what’re you going do with it?’ - Although I do just want to
say there are a lot of people who are struggling and don’t have time to be
working on crafts and picking up new cooking techniques and all that
because being poor is full time. You don’t have time to invest because it’s
a full time struggle. I don’t want to be condescending to those people in
If you, like me, are anxiously waiting to see what Xavier blesses us with next, stay tuned for Xavier’s exciting upcoming work, including the anticipated March release of his new album, TINA (although if you just can’t wait, you can find his latest singles on Spotify under Xay Zoleil.) He will also be releasing a comprehensive collection of the music he has produced for shows with the Zoetic Dance Company, the Atlanta Dance Collective, Emory University, Georgia State and ImmerseATL under the album Music for Dance: A Conceptual Work by Xay Zoleil.
Nominated for running Dance ATL for two years, and her work as a dancer and performer at large in the community
Jacquelyn Pritz, is one of those people who just does things. Think swing dance is snazzy? She’ll take that class alone and then choreograph you a couple zingy numbers. Want to learn self defense? BAM, there’s Jacque, learning Krav Maga. Now, she’s using that can-do attitude to make changes in her professional life and community. A transplant from Florida and now three years into Atlanta, Jacque is heavily involved with DanceATL, Emory University, Druid Hills Dance Center and Beacon Dance. When asked about her involvement, she replied:
I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in the way that I am in the dance
community here. I will say when I first came to Atlanta, I was very insecure.
Because I was new and didn’t know many people, I felt like I had to prove
myself in dance classes, so I definitely approached everything with a competitive
mindset. I quickly learned that the ATL dance community, and life in general, is
about relationship-building. Rather than looking at opportunities as scarce and
competitive, I realized there's actually much in abundance and I just had to find
where I could get involved.
Highlighting that moment of personal and artistic growth and her tendency towards honest self-exploration, she continues, "I had to reframe my mindset and stop seeing myself as an emerging artist. What even is an emerging artist? I had to stop disqualifying myself and be more confident in my talents and abilities as a dancer."
It’s hard to resist asking people about the ways their lives have changed during a time when physical space is highly restricted. Jacque provided her characteristically wise thoughts bringing up some of the opportunities that DanceATL has provided to get connected, such as their A.M. Collaborative Program. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Jacque is not at a loss for inspiration, saying:
Other people inspire me and motivate me for sure. I think that’s part
of seeing others grow and succeed and kind of using that as motivation
versus questioning, ‘what’s wrong with me?’. With DanceATL, I work with
a lot of volunteers and so we collaborate a lot with our programming. It’s so
much fun to spitball back and forth and have it evolve into something tangible,
like a workshop. Dance is about making a positive impact. Now I’m learning a
lot about what creative placemaking is and how it brings artists to the community-
planning table. I hope to get more involved with that in the near future.
Jacque loves her space in the Atlanta dance world and is excited to continue to contribute, but if she could change one thing, she says, “I wish there was more funding to go around because there are so many innovative projects taking place and while artists continue to show our resilience, we can't keep making our labor free.”
I bet you’re saying to yourself, “Drat. If only I could see this empowered woman in action”. Relatable, but fret not because you can see Jacque perform in Nadya Zeitlin's work at Excuse the Art in April and in Beacon Dance’s upcoming piece about family relations, The Mapping Project, showing later this Spring.
Nominated for his versatility in the commercial and contemporary world and his new company endeavor, Sequence One
Darvensky Louis is the product of an unconventional journey. Highly relatable and wildly motivational, Darvensky is a recent graduate from Kennesaw State University and now finds himself floating around the Atlanta dance community, creating in whatever spaces spark his joy. He approaches opportunities with a boundless enthusiasm that has never wavered since his late introduction to the dance world. On that note, Darvensky explains:
Well, my journey is kind of a unique journey.... I definitely think that a lot
of dancers start at a young age, and I started when I was a freshman in high
school, so I’m kinda late to the game. I had to get caught up pretty fast and I was
the one in the classroom looking around just trying to see how everybody else was
doing something. When I was first starting in the dance world I was trying to be
somebody I wasn’t. I learned to always bring my individuality in whatever class I take
and always bring my whole self to any class that I take. Because that’s the best way to
approach any dance class in my opinion. Just bring yourself, fine tune yourself.
It wasn’t just technique that Darvensky struggled to catch up on at first; he pushed himself a bit too hard on a number of occasions, resulting in injuries that took months to recover; clearly, Darvensky is an energetic performer. When asked about what inspired his energy in life, he explained,
Number one on my list is God. My spirituality is super, super important.
I definitely try to lead by example with what I believe in. I try to show that I can
still be loving. I can be creative.... My parents are Haitian, and I’m the first Haitian
kid in my whole family tree to ever pursue something in the arts, so I pride myself
on that idea and I’ve always wanted to succeed in what I’m doing. I have always
told myself that if I’m gonna do this, I have to be the best at what I’m doing, I have
it to do it at a high level. I’m trying to set the stage for any younger Haitian kids who
want to pursue arts careers.
And succeed he has. Darvensky now has an established home in the dance community, continually drawing respect for his work ethic and behavior towards others. When asked if there was anything about the Atlanta dance scene he’d like to see change, Darvensky says,
I’d want to see a lot more collaboration between the commercial dance world
and the concert dance world. The industry doesn’t really mesh but I’m a big
advocate of versatility. Take a commercial class. Take the corrections you get in,
say, a hip hop class and apply them to your contemporary class. I’m really big on
blending these worlds and de-emphasizing the divide between concert and
commercial. Like not trying to divide things up between ‘this is real art’ and ‘this is
In order to bring about this change and make the world of concert dance more accessible, Darvensky has recently started his own dance company, Sequence One. Darvensky hopes he can encourage current and future undergraduates to consider dance a viable major by creating a space for college alumni to tour around the U.S., build a name for themselves, and fulfill their dreams of being a professional concert dancer. By allowing dancers to make industry connections while on tour and throughout the audition process, Darvensky hopes he can encourage future undergraduates that dance is a viable degree path. As someone who discovered dance later in life, he is passionate about creating opportunities for older students to successfully explore the dance world. "A lot of times in the dance world, companies have to know you, they have to trust you. My mission and vision is to inspire many future undergraduate creatives by bringing concert dance internationally through the collaboration of college alumni."
If you’d like to see more of Darvensky’s work (the correct answer here being yes please now), keep your eyes peeled for Sequence One’s upcoming inaugural show. Darvensky hopes that they will unveil a showcase sometime in May, pandemic dependent.
We hope this series allows you to feel more connected with your community and find some new artists to buoy your spirits in these interesting times. If you wish to nominate individuals for this series, reach out to our email!
(These interviews have been edited for content and clarity)
Hayley Grassler is a recent Georgia transplant following small artists and their journeys across the South.