Unless you are a bona fide Alexander Godunov groupie, or addicted to the male variation from the "Corsaire" pas de deux, or like to watch dancers with their feet cut off at the bottom of the screen, there's probably not much incentive to tune in tonight at 8, when Channel 26 airs "Godunov: The World to Dance In," a 60-minute PBS special on the Bolshoi Ballet defector. This tiresome clunker, which may set back the cause of classical ballet beyond conceivable remedy, is little more than pretentious puffery.
Godunov is the 33-year-old Soviet dancer who defected in 1979 while on tour with the Bolshoi--where he'd enjoyed considerable celebrity for his flashy, if gauche, technique, his imposing height and his flying mane of golden hair. You may recall the brouhaha at New York's Kennedy Airport when the Russians tried to whisk Godunov's wife aboard a plane, which was detained by the State Department for several days until authorities satisfied themselves she was leaving of her own free will (the couple has since been divorced).
Godunov himself went on to dance as a principal with American Ballet Theatre for three years, until he was let go, rather unceremoniously, last summer. From an artistic standpoint, he was a misfit from the start--his flamboyant Bolshoi style and personal mannerisms were ludicrously anomalous in the ABT context. Since that time, he has been making guest appearances and also organized a tour of his own with an ad hoc troupe.
Producer/director Peter Rosen and writer/narrator Christopher Higham let us know where they're coming from right off by trying to acquire for Godunov some glory by association. Four of the greatest Russian male dancers of the 20th century, the narrator states, traveled to the West--Nijinsky, Nureyev, Baryshnikov and Godunov. Asserting that the other three are no longer in the picture due to death, age or injury, the commentary concludes that Godunov, "judged by the very highest dance criteria, is the most worthy existing member" of this unique group of dancers. The only unique thing about it is the idea of mentioning Godunov in the same breath, a gambit that bids fair to win the Chutzpah Award of the Year.
There's no complete dance performance shown in the course of the hour, but the excerpts one does see are consistent in that they are all badly shot and edited, and have an aversion to the display of feet.
There's no lack of "Corsaires"; I lost track of the number of times the same pyrotechnical phrase reappears. In any case, it's only Godunov you get to see for more than a few moments--at one point, when ballerina Eleanor D'Antuono gets going on her fouettes, the camera immediately cuts away to the wings to watch Godunov having his calves massaged.
A certain amount of time is devoted to obligatory biography, illustrative clips, and footage from Godunov's 1982 summer tour. But the major portion of the show is devoted to "candid" scenes of Godunov shopping for clothes, signing autographs, being gawped at by pretty young women, having a rubdown, diving in a pool, cooing at girlfriend Jacqueline Bisset, taking bows, jogging, and rippling his sweat-oiled muscles on an exercise cycle, while the narration drones on with the usual cliche's about all the hard work that goes into being a dance star. All very informative, no doubt. The big remaining mystery is who conned PBS into scheduling this item as "cultural" programming.