After warming up with a ballet based on Dostoevsky's novel "The Idiot," dancer-choreographer Valery Panov feels ready for a major project. When he finished his current tour with the Berlin Ballet, Panov said yesterday at the National Press Club, "I go back to Israel and work on 'War and Peace.'"

It probably won't take him very long. "The Idiot," which requires 2 1/2 pages for its plot-summary in the Kennnedy Center program, took him only about a month to choreograph, once he had picked the music. "I work very fast," said Panov, "only a short time, but day and night -- night my best time."

Panov and his wife, Galina Panova, were the Press Club's guests at a sort of reception and press conference that the club, in its most with-it-style, called a "rap session." About 200 chairs were set up in the club's ballroom and about two-thirds filled with members of the Washington press corps -- one of the world's toughest when dealing with a head of state, but putty in the hands of performing artists who have emigrated from the Soviet Union. After lobbing easy questions at the Panovs for about 40 minutes, the audience flocked almost unanimously up to their table, waiting patiently for the postcard-sized photographs that they were autographing with red magic markers.

PBS dance critic Jane Murray; who served as moderator for the session, told the audience that the Panovs were "kept virtually under house arrest for 24 months" after they applied for a visa to emigrate to Israel in the early '70s. World public opinion forced the Soviet authorities to let them out in 1974, she said, and the former stars of the Kirov Ballet "have gone on to greater heights now on the international stage."

Panov recalled the beginning of the freeze, when the Russian authorities made him stop dancing. "They told me, 'You're out, you're free tonight, because the public doesn't want to see you any more.' You have to do something, so I thought, 'Let's write a book, and I wrote my book, "To Dance,' but for two years, impossible to dance, impossible to work with your body. When we leave Russia, I worry, 'can I dance?' but everything come back."

For years before moving to Israel, he said, he tried to ignore the conditions in Russia: "I have conflicts, but I don't think about my future; I work -- I work." As he recalled conditions in the Soviet Union, his long-fingered hands moved up slowly and encircled his own throat in a stage personality's unconcious pantomine: "But with Soviet control -- with KGB -- growth is impossible . . . choked."

He said that in leaving Russia he had followed the example of Rudolf Nureyev, his colleague at the Kirov in the early years of his career and again his colleague in the current tour of the Berlin Ballet. Nureyev's defection during a Western tour in 1961 was one of the first examples in what has since became a tidal wave of artists, writers and intellectuals leaving the Soviet Union. Recalling it, Panov was reminded of the Soviet astronaut who became the first man to go into outer space at about the same time that Nureyev was refusing to go back to Moscow from Paris.

"Rudi -- you know -- he was like Gaga- rin," Panov said. "He opened the road."