Leonid Kozlov and Valentine Kozlova, the Bolshoi Ballet dancers who defected from the Soviet Union on Sept. 16, said yesterday that they are worried about their families left behind in Moscow.
At a news conference, Kozlova, 25, said through an interpreter that things were "going very badly" for her mother, whom she had spoken to on the telephone. "But she didn't tell us sepcifically what."
"They could give her problems in living," Kozlov, 32, added. "We hope that they'll stop, but it'll go on for long time." Kozlov's mother and sister also live in Moscow.
The dancers -- who said they had been considering defection since 1973, the year they were married -- left the Bolshoi troupe last month in Los Angeles with the help of a still-unnamed American couple. They will make their first post-defection American appearance in New Orleans on Friday.
Since the defection, they said in an interview over the last weekend, "The question everyone asks us is whether we stayed because of money." But Kozlov insisted that was not the case. "For an American, it's hard to understand what it is to be dictated to. I was always depressed because someone always told me what to do next" in the U.S.S.R.
Kozlov admitted that they had missed the company of fellow Russians. Six days after their defection, the couple recalled, American friends of theirs in Los Angeles called National Symphony music director Mstislav Rostropovich in Washington, who then invited the dancers to stay with him at his apartment in the Watergate Hotel.
The friends called and said, "He is lonely," Rostropovich confirmed yesterday. The conducter then called Kozlov: "I say, 'Please take next plane and come here." They did, and spent what Kozlov called "three fantastic days" with Rostropovich before traveling on to New York.
At yesterday's news conference, Kozlov said that the recent Soviet cancellation of the Moscow State Symphony's planned 28-city tour was "stupid," and shows that "the Soviet Union doesn't trust its own artists." Kozlova said that if the couple had been discovered while defecting, "We can't tell you exactly what would have happened to us -- but there would be a lot of problems for us, and we would never be let out to go abroad again."
Of Ludmilla Vlasova, the wife of defecting Bolshoi dancer Alexander Godunov, Kozlov said yesterday that "We thought she and her husband, Godunov, would stay together. What happened is very difficult for us to understand."
The Kozlovs, both born in Moscow and trained at the Bolshoi school, first met in New York, during a Bolshoi U.S. tour in 1973. That year, the Bolshoi brought some of the students from its school, including Koslova. Kozlov began courting her and, he says, they fell in love in Washington, D. C., while the Bolshoi was performing there.Two months later, back in Moscow, they decided to marry.
In the interview over the weekend, the couple discussed events leading up to the defection, their hopes for the future -- including possible television contracts -- and their desire to have children born in the United States.
Kozlov recalled that just after they were married, for reasons he still does not understand he was placed on a Soviet "blacklist" of artists denied permission to travel to the U.S., and consequently did not tour with the Bolshoi here in 1974 and 1975.By that time, he was dancing lead roles, but his career had started to suffer, because of the blacklisting, he said. "Nobody gives explanations" for the practice, he said; "maybe they thought I would defect then."
During the 1974 tour of the U.S., Kozlova refused to go without her husband. "In 1975, 24 hours before the tour left Russia," Kozlov said, "I was told I was not going, and they asked me if my wife would go. We were so much in love with each other, I told them that I wanted her to go [and she did], but she couldn't dance many things without me [he was her main partner] -- so she wasn't dancing leading roles" even though she had danced them in Moscow.
Kozlova recollected that at the time of the blacklisting the idea of defecting "was just like small pieces in a puzzle coming together."
Then, about a year ago, "we told each other, 'that's enough,'" and decided to defect if the opportunity arose.
Late last year the Kozlovs were allowed to visit the U.S. as part of a small Soviet artist group which included a few dancers, but the two of them were watched closely and were unable to secure the American assistance needed to defect at that time.
But with the Bolshoi torn apart by internal rivalries, and short of trusted male dancers of superior talent, both Kozlov and fellow defector Alexander Godunov were permitted to join the Bolshoi tour of North America this year, Kozlov said.
"We wanted to dance 'Swan Lake' together in the U.S.," but Yuri Grigorovich, the Bolshoi's artistic director, would not assign them the roles. Koslov did perform in "Swan Lake," however, dancing in Godunov's place after he defected.
But for Kozlova, who, in Russia, danced mostly with her husband, there was only one important role given her during the entire U.S. tour.
Kozlov reports that Grigorovich told them that after the tour ended "he had a lot of plans for us -- but we had our own plans."
Kozlov and his wife said they had decided "that this time we were not coming back. But we didn't know technically how to defect," Kozlov said.
They discussed their desire to defect with at least three Americans, they say, and in New York met a friend who had relatives in Los Angeles. Those relatives arranged the cloak-and-dagger operation that led to the Kozlovs' fleeing the theater in Los Angeles immediately after the Bolshoi's final U.S. performance.
"And we will always be grateful" for that help, Kozlov said.
Now the Kozlovs are ebullient. After a 15-hour workday, he still bubbles with joy. He laughs, clowns around, is happy to be able to walk the streets of New York as a free man.
He has just ordered a 1980 Buick, and said he has no objection to earning a good living in America.
After they defected, Kozlov said, they had an obligatory meeting with a Soviet official, who asked them to return to Russia, explaining, according to Kozlov, that "maybe we were not treated very well, but that many artists are recognized after they die."
Kozlov laughed at the Soviet official's statement and comments that "it was very original of him to say that."
"We made our careers in Moscow by ourselves -- by working hard -- and that's the way we'll make it here," Kozlov explained. "We're on our own, and our abilities will show what we have."
Because the two of them have had only limited exposure to the American dance audience, they will have to work harder than if they were already established names in the West such as Godunov.
"We know it will not be easy, but it will be interesting," she said.
Kozlova's father is dead, and she is an only child. Kozlov also lost his father, and he called his mother in Moscow only three days after he defected. The call went through, "and she didn't say that I did wrong." Yet his mother said there was trouble at home, not specifying what, and he is concerned about her.
"We want a family here," Kozlov said, and his wife added, "I think very soon, but first we have to [show] ourselves as artists."
After Godunov defected, Kozlov was the only Bolshoi dancer who knew the key role of Tybalt in the Bolshoi's new "Romeo and Juliet," and had he not waited until the end of the tour to defect, the ballet might have had to be cancelled.
"We suffered for two months" during the North American tour, waiting, Kozlova said, "but we always believed that this time our fate wouldn't fail us" and American sympathizers would appear to help them.
During the final few days in Los Angeles, KGB surveillance of the Kozlovs eased, they report, because "the KGB knew exactly how much money we had left, and they made us spend it in Los Angeles. When we spent the money, they decided that we were not going to defect because we don't have any money -- and this is the moment we did it."
Both agreed that they never had any intention of returning to Russia.
"We had a last-chance plan to go up to a policeman after the final performance," Kozlov says. "If necessary, we would go to a policeman and take him by the hand." Kozlov, who during the interview had been speaking in Russian with an interpreter, suddenly switched to English, saying he would have told the policeman, "I no back U.S.S.R."
Switching back to Russian, he added that, "It would have been a cry of the soul, and we didn't want to do it this way. We wanted to do it in a more [dignified] way."
The Kozlovs declined to be specific on just exactly how the defection was arranged, because they wish to protect their friends and they say they have been approached by a producer regarding a TV film of their escapade -- a film in which they may play themselves.
The 6'1" Kozlov, exceptionally handsome and unusually tall for a ballet dancer in the West, laughingly said that "Kozlov" literally means "goat" in Russian and that "this is the year of the goat, the year of the Kozlovs. And like a goat, we're obstinate."
The Kozlovs will be performing a pas de deux from a Russian ballet called "These Charming Sounds" during performances in New Orleans this weekend and in New York next weekend.
For Kozlova, however, the most charming sound will be the day their first child is born in America to be baptized in a Russian Orthodox Church, to the sound of freedom. That, they say, is their next great hope.