A member of a Washington-based group of Cambodian dancers that is the American successor to the former Royal Classical Khmer Ballet was killed and three other members injured when the car in which they were riding jumped a curb and struck a tree yesterday, D.C. police said.
Nou Sovannaro, 22, of 11509 Elkin St., Wheaton, was pronounced dead at Walter Reed Army Medical Center shortly after the 9:30 a.m. accident on upper 16th Street NW, police said. Joe Wilson, of the National Council for the Traditional Arts that had been a primary sponsor of the dance troupe in the United States, described Sovannaro as an "important" dancer who had appeared in leading roles with the group.
The principal male dancer in the group, Nuth Rachana, 42, also of Wheaton, was listed last night in very serious condition at Walter Reed, according to hospital officials. Wilson said that Rachana, who was a member of the Royal Classical Khmer Ballet before the overthrow of the Cambodian government by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, suffered severe head injuries in the accident.
Two other members of the dance group, Sek Sophal , 22, and Heng Viphas were admitted to Washington Hospital Center, a hospital official confirmed last night. Reports on their conditions were not available.
The Khmer Classical Dancers first performed in this country at the Folk Festival at Wolf Trap in 1981. The dancers had entered this country in 1980 under a special refugee category, after a Swiss filmmaker who discovered them in a refugee camp appealed to countries throughout the world to sponsor the dancers so that the centuries-old art form could be preserved.
Since their arrival here, most members of the troupe have lived in a 1950s garden-apartment complex in Wheaton, according to Wilson. They have performed extensively throughout the United States and have been acclaimed in reviews as "bewitching in their beauty, refinement and universality."
Wilson said that the four were on their way for a job interview yesterday when the accident occurred. Police said Rachana, who was in the front seat, for unexplained reasons grabbed the steering wheel of the car, which was being driven by Sophal. Sophal has been charged with colliding, police said.