Damara Bennett Tribute
We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Damara Bennett. To say she had an impact on OBT and our community of dancers and teachers would be an understatement. Damara helped shape the Oregon Ballet Theatre School, grow the community of ballet dancers and teachers within Oregon, and nationwide, and established a level of excellence in the artform that continues through those who were lucky enough to have worked with her.
Damara received her formal ballet training under the direction of Lila Zali in Laguna Beach, California, where her early dedication and talent afforded her a Ford Foundation Scholarship from the School of American Ballet. In 1971, Damara joined San Francisco Ballet, dancing under the direction of Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin. During her tenure at SFB, she studied under Erik Bruhn, Tatiana Grantzeva, and Terry Westmoreland and performed the works of such distinguished choreographers as Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart, Lew Christensen, Willam Christensen, Jerome Robbins, and Michael Smuin.
Damara was the director of OBT School from 2003 to 2013 and worked closely with then Artistic Director Christopher Stowell. Many of Damara Bennett’s students have gone on to dance with professional companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Miami City Ballet, New York City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and of course, Oregon Ballet Theatre! The current OBT company roster includes her former students Brian Simcoe, Thomas Baker, Zuzu Metzler, Kelsie Nobriga, and Jessica Lind.
OBT School teachers Elise Legere, Olivia Pyne and Kembe Adam, OBT company artist Zuzu Metzler, and former OBT artistic director Christopher Stowell shared with us the incredible impact Damara Bennett had on their lives and how she influenced them as dancers, teachers, and as people.
“I was very sad to hear of Damara Bennett’s passing. As a long time faculty member of the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre I had a deep appreciation for her unending passion and devotion to the art of Dance, her students, and the reputation of our school. Her guidance upheld the tradition of excellent training. Damara taught every level in the school, from level one through adult classes. I was impressed most by her demanding emphasis on technique while instilling the joy of movement in her dancers. Students looked forward to the long hours of rehearsals and performing challenging and fun choreography in the Annual School Performance.
Damara’s commitment was evidenced by her presence in the studio 6 days a week (willing to do 7), teaching classes, holding rehearsals, or just communicating with her students and faculty. It was indicative of her love for the artform and dedication to teaching. She left a notable legacy. Damara Bennett will be missed by many hundreds of former students.”
–Elise Legere, OBT School Teacher
“As a student of Damara, I experienced her ability to pull more out of you than you knew you had to give. As I transitioned into teaching under her, I learned how to always see the potential for “more” in every student. There is not a single class I teach that does not have her mark on it. From Pre-Ballet to Adult Classes, her influence continues to affect hundreds and hundreds of students. Her sense of humor, her deep love of ballet, her care for each individual student, her high expectations both for herself and others, and her hard work ethic are all part of what made Damara such an impactful and dearly loved person.”
–Olivia Pyne, OBT School Teacher and former OBT School student
“Damara’s passion for teaching and dance was insurmountable, and you can see it in her students. She cared for each dancer of all levels so deeply, in hopes that they would not just be successful in their future ballet careers, but in their lives as well. You were taught how to dance, but more importantly, you were taught diligence and integrity. I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be one of her ballet students and to have had a teacher as great as she was, as I would not be the dancer or person I am today. Thank you Damara for all that you did for OBT and for everyone who was lucky enough to meet you.”
–Zuzu Metzler, OBT Company Artist and former OBT School student
“Damara was a truly lovely woman, full of life and energy and drive. She sought the best in all of us and was generous and kind to mentor us in our own growth as teachers. I hear her voice every time I’m in the studio and hope I am able to pepper my classes with some of the same joy and respect for ballet that she brought to every class she taught. Damara brightened the world around her and blessed all of us at OBT School with her commitment and passion and love. Her legacy will live on in hundreds of students and dancers all around the world. I’m eternally grateful for Damara.”
–Kembe Adam, OBT School Teacher
“It is impossible to encapsulate everything Damara was to me over our 35-year friendship. We met as dancers, instantly became kindred spirits, I’m like an uncle to her daughter Ellie; Damara gave me my first opportunities as a teacher and choreographer and we laughed together throughout it all. But, taking on the leadership of OBT together and creating new lives in Portland solidified a partnership that I will never experience again.
Damara’s values as an artist and person influenced her every move, the focus and dedication she instilled in each of her students was incredible to witness and I, as well as the global dance community, owe her so much. She was uniquely, innately gifted at creating dancers with drive and respect, dancers with solid technique that became adults with solid values.
All of us fortunate enough to have been part of her world should commit to upholding her legacy for future generations.”
-Christopher Stowell, Assoc. Artistic Director of The National Ballet and former OBT Artistic Director