Russian dancer Alexander Godunov, dismissed last week by the American Ballet Theatre, said yesterday that he had never been told directly why he was fired and that the company "threw me away like a potato peel."
The long-haired, long-legged blond dancer, who defected from the Bolshoi Ballet in 1979, had learned last Thursday that the ABT no longer wants his services. ABT offered an explanation--that there wasn't anything for Godunov to dance next season--that Godunov considers a sham.
Godunov is also hurt because he was not told of his firing by his boss and friend of 20 years, artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov.
"I think that if you're the artistic director, you should talk to the people who work for you," he said. "You should talk to your dancers; if it's good news or bad news--to give reasons or to just say, 'You're fired.' "
On Sunday Godunov begins a six-week cross-country tour, heading a ballet chamber ensemble. "I'm glad I have this tour," he said. "Otherwise I would be completely in the middle of nowhere."
Upon his return to New York, he said, he intends to seek a full-time position with another ballet company, possibly the New York City Ballet.
There was a look of agony on Godunov's pale face yesterday as he related how he was told that ABT said to his manager, "Please explain to Alexander Godunov that he has nothing to do for next season and that Misha Baryshnikov has a bad relationship with him."
According to Godunov, "In two years here, nothing was wrong between us. We didn't spend a lot of time together, but it's not like a partnership."
As for the backstage intrigue, Godunov said that ABT now "smells like Russia. It reminds me a lot of Russia.
"I'm trying all my life to stay away from these kitchen intrigues," he added. "I want to keep dancing for a long time.
"But I feel hurt . . . because I worked hard and now to be out of this company, of course it hurts you."
A highly placed source in ABT said yesterday that the firing was a financial issue, rather than one that resulted because of Godunov's bravura dancing style or as a result of "tension" between Godunov and Baryshnikov, as had allegedly been suggested in a conversation between Godunov's manager and ABT's executive director. Godunov's manager said that ABT charged there was a tense environment.
ABT's management, this source said, faced with tough budget reductions, decided that Godunov was the most expendable high-priced dancer among the group that includes Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones. Godunov was earning about $5,500 per week.
Godunov, however, was not told of the money crunch. In fact, ABT executive director Herman E. Krawitz denied that Godunov's high salary had anything to do with what Krawitz termed Godunov's "non-reengagement."
Instead, Krawitz explained that ABT is dropping "Giselle" and "Swan Lake" from its repertoire next season and that for the many new ballets to be staged for ABT, "it is unlikely the choreographers we are engaging would want Godunov."
Believing that "it was wisest and decent to give Godunov the earliest possible notice," Krawitz informed Godunov's manager last week that the dancer wasn't needed. The manager then issued a press release mentioning allegations by ABT that Godunov and Baryshnikov weren't getting on and that there wasn't much for Godunov to dance.
Godunov was a star dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet, and in August 1979 fled the company while it was performing in New York. His then-wife, Ludmila Vlasova, who has since remarried, chose not to defect and when taken to a Soviet jetliner for return to Moscow, the United States government, suspecting she had been placed on the plane against her will, held the plane for three days at Kennedy Airport. She eventually returned to Russia. The story made the front pages of most of America's newspapers every day for a week--possibly making Godunov the most famous defector in history. He is currently dating actress Jacqueline Bisset.