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For ballet star Godunov, the US has been the perfect set change

No regrets for ballet dancer Alexander Godunov about his dramatic defection in 1979. Now, looking back with the perspective of time, he says he is happy to be an ex-Soviet citizen, looking forward to life as an American citizen. If he had it all to do over again, ''I would have the same decision,'' he said.

In Godunov: The World To Dance In (PBS, Wednesday, 8-9 p.m., check local listings) dancer Cynthia Gregory says that Godunov is ''more American'' than all the other Russian dance defectors she knows (Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Panov). And ex-Soviet citizen Godunov certainly seems to have adopted many of the trappings of American superstardom.

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I am interviewing him in the Madison Avenue office of his publicist. Dressed in black leather trousers and aviator jacket, shod in western-style boots, he wears his shirt open almost to the waistline. His long blond hair touches his shoulders. When he stands to shake hands, he seems to be moving carefully into position, his long hair swaying with the movement. There is a certain graceful, thoroughbred equine quality about this 6-foot-2 dancer.

His explanation for the defection is not very political. ''A dancer's life is very short,'' he explains. ''With the Bolshoi, I danced only once a month for four or five years. And I had many invitations to dance elsewhere, but they wouldn't let me go. Time goes fast for a dancer - we cannot dance forever. I was here in this country. And I liked the big repertoire of the American Ballet Theater. So, I decided to stay.''

Why did the Bolshoi hierarchy restrict his appearances?

''They don't want a cult of personality. They don't like individuals in Russia. They like you to do all the time what they want. If you ask for something else you become a strange person, not to be trusted.''

As a matter of fact, ''Godunov: The World to Dance In'' is more a celebration of Godunov's personality than it is a celebration of his dancing. Although a fascinating entertainment because it manages to combine ballet with conflict and controversy, this Metromedia-Peter Rosen co-production is weak in the area of dance. There is simply too much talk about dance but not enough dance in it.

Instead, the focus is on Godunov as a superstar, the darling of the mass media, the constant companion of movie star Jacqueline Bisset, the ex-husband of a Russian-Jewish ballerina who has gone back to Russia, divorced him, and remarried. Adoring fans have more than enough opportunity to sigh about him. Perhaps the most symbolic shot in this revealing documentary is one of Godunov wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.

The documentary presents a stream of people - all women - verbalizing their emotional reactions to the ballet star. I decide to surprise my interviewee with a recitation of the adjectives used.

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How does Alexander Godunov react to being called arrogant, truculent, defiant , larger than life, strong, sexy, brooding, evil, singleminded, sensitive, fragile, powerful? Those are only some of the references to him in the film.

He laughs, then remains quiet for a few seconds, seemingly like a dancer waiting for his partner to finish her turn. But he is actually organizing his words since English does not seem to come easy to Mr. Godunov, and just as the interviewer is convinced the dancer has become totally inarticulate, there is a sudden surprising flow of English. ''I don't mind to have those kind of words about me. It means I give something to people - they are reacting.

''When I am on stage I try to be there with a certain character which I am creating. It is good that the people do not know if they are talking about me as a personality or commenting about my technique. That's why Nureyev and Baryshnikov are superstars. In any performing art if you do not have soul and your own interpretation, you are nothing.''

The American Ballet Theater, under the direction of Mikhail Baryshnikov, is no longer using Godunov. Does he know why?

He smiles sadly. ''Perhaps you better ask Mr. Baryshnikov. They called my agent and said for next season we do not have a repertoire for Mr. Godunov. That was it. And they are now playing all my repertoire. . . .''

Both Baryshnikov and Nureyev, although still dancing, are now involved in dance management as well. Will Godunov follow their lead?

''It depends on my body. I am 33 and I hope to dance for at least four or five more years. After that . . .'' he shrugs his shoulders and tosses his manelike hair.

Now that he has danced with so many American dance companies, what does he find to be the major difference from Russian dancing?

No hesitation on this one. ''Here dancers have much more possibility to be on stage and more choices to dance all over the country. That results in better dancers because dancers here are in good shape all the time because they work a lot. In Russia you are on stage only once in a while, and it is hard to keep your body in shape that way.''

However, Mr. Godunov finds that, due to the fact that so many Russian emigres teach ballet in cities throughout the country, American dancers are very knowledgeable about the Russian ballet traditions. He is especially complimentary about his experience dancing with Alvin Ailey, Ballanchine's New York City Ballet, and Paul Taylor. Asked to name the best American dancers, Godunov declines because he does not want to antagonize friends, but he makes it very clear that Cynthia Gregory is his favorite partner.

What will he be doing in the near future?

''I go to the Festival Ballet in London and then to South America. I would like also to dance with the Bejart Ballet in Belgium.'' He believes he is dancing better than ever because ''I now have mental freedom and the ability to be myself and to work more. This can only make me a better dancer.''

Does he believe there is a chance that the Russian dance establishment may change its ways and invite back all the defectors?

''No. They will never change. And even if they would, I am now accustomed to freedom - the freedom to move about, the freedom to speak, the freedom to work. I now have a green work card but I plan to become an American citizen as soon as I can. I will always be a little bit Russian. But I am Americanized.''

Would Godunov go back and dance in Russia as a guest artist?

''Yes,'' he says thoughtfully. ''But I would want lots of security guards.''

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