Now you see him, now you don't, and afterwards you almost wish you hadn't. The long-touted television appearance of Bolshoi Ballet defector Alexander Godunov, partnering Cynthia Gregory in the "Corsaire" pas de deux, finally airs tonight on Channel 4 as part of NBC's new smorgasbord, "The Big Show." It turns out to be little more than half of an underbaked loaf.

Apparently the producers decided that the viewing public couldn't possibly tolerate the whole of even a short, splashy bit of classical ballet. So they lopped off the entire first section of the piece -- which is not only the most interesting part, but also the sole passage in which the couple actually dances together.

The feeling of anticliamx is reinforced by mediocre camera work and shoddy audio mixing, as well as host Steve Allen's reference to Gregory as "prima ballerina" of American Ballet Theatre, Gregory resigned from the company last November, but the segment was taped the previous month and remains uncorrected.

The "Corsaire" pas de deux is one of the bravura warhorses of the classical repertoire, associated in the minds of most aficionados with Rudolf Nureyev, who popularized it in the West and has been its most notable exponent. But trying to assess anything about Godunov's artistic powers from this abominably truncated performance would be like attempting to appraise a classical pianist on the basis of the first 40 bars of "Ritual Fire Dance."

What does come across is that Godunov, who looks nervous -- and understandably so, given the stormy rehearsals with Gregory -- has a brilliant jump, powerful turns and the florid mannerisms of the Russian style. For a fuller impression, Washingtonians must await his personal appearance with ABT here in April, minus the hype and artistic infantilism of "The Big Show."