Ballet star Alexander Godunov said today he does not understand why his ballerina wife chose to return to Moscow rather than defect with him.

In his first public appearance since his defection last week, Godunov expressed his gratitude to the U.S. government for its effort to give his wife, Ludmilla Vlasova the opportunity to choose whether to defect with him or return to Moscow.

The tall, blond dancer told a news conference he acted alone because "I found myself in a situation in which I wasn't able to contact my wife." Godunov said he stayed away so long from the New York hotel where the Bolshoi Ballet was staying that he has missed a curfew and feared he would not get another chance to defect if he returned to talk with his wife.

"I defected for artistic reasons," Godunov said. "There is a moment in the life of every artist when he has to decide either to rest on what he has achieved or to proceed in his artistic development."

He complained that he had not been allowed to dance often enough with the Bolshoi. "I am full of health and full of energy." he said.

Godunov refused to say what company he will dance with because plans for his career in the West are not complete. He also ducked an opportunity to criticize the Bolshoi choreography, saying he would discuss "artistic subjects" later.

He rejected as lies, however, Soviet charges that he had been bribed to defect.

Godunov appeared at the news conference between his lawyer, Orville Schell, and self-exiled poet Joseph Brodsky, who translated for him though Godunov speaks English fairly well and answered a few questions without waiting for the translation.

He endured not only the tumult of a crowd of television cameramen and and photographers blocking his path as he entered and left the room, but some odd questions from Americans and deliberately provocative ones from a Soviet.

Iona Andronov, who represents Literary Gazette in New York, attempted to provoke Godunov by asking whether the FBI had persuaded him to defect and quoting New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin's description of him as of him as "a bum who skipped out on his wife."

One American asked the nonpolitical dancer whether he intends to follow Nobel prize-winning novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn in critizing both Soviet and American society.

"No," Godunov replied.

Most of the questions focused on Godunov's relations with his wife.

He denied that theirs was a marriage of convenience. "she left one of the richest men in our circle" to marry him, Godunov said, "so, in fact, she left a good situation for a worse one."

Godunov said he had discussed defecting with his wife several times, but refused to say whether any of the discussions had been in New York in the days immediately preceding his defection.

I don't want to compromise her since she is in Moscow," he replied to several questions. Asked whether he thought his wife would be treated well in the Soviet Union, where she received a heroine's welcome after her much-delayed plane arrived Tuesday, he said: "I think that everything is going to be all right. I hope so."

Godunov, whose insistence that Vlasova wanted to stay in the United States with him spurred U.S. efforts to give her a choice, said he would have been able to change her mind if they had talked during the three days she was delayed at Kennedy International Airport.

"I think if we had the chance to meet we wouldn't be separate," he said.

Godunov said he would like to ask her why she decided to return to Moscow after meeting with U.S. officials Monday in a mobile lounge next to the Aeroflot plane that eventually took her back to the Soviet Union.

Godunov spoke softly and remained impassive through most of the news conference, but he said his untroubled expression is habitual and did not reflect how he feels. "I don't think there are words in any language to express my feelings and conditions," he said.

The Soviet press has said that Godunov remained in the United States "under circumstances that are not yet clear." Schell said today's news conference was in part "to make the circumstances perfectly clear."

Godunov said he is happy to be in this country but that he hopes he will see his wife again someday.

As he made his way from the room, the dancer stumbled over someone in the pack of photographers crowding around him. "Don't break his leg," a woman called out as he returned to seclusion.