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Alexander Godunov becomes American

NEW YORK -- Alexander Godunov, the premier dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet until his dramatic defection from the Soviet Union in 1979, became an American citizen Wednesday and said he will celebrate by eating a 'hamburger stuffed with caviar.'

'You now have more freedom than you've ever enjoyed,' U.S. District Judge Robert Carter told the 189 new citizens sworn in with Godunov, 37. 'Try to keep it that way.'

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It was Godunov's quest for freedom of expression that prompted him to defect Aug. 21, 1979, while in New York with the Bolshoi. Godunov had been refused permission to travel for fear he would defect but the troupe was in need of premier dancers for its American tour.

For 73 hours at Kennedy Airport, authorities delayed the departure of an Aeroflot jetliner until Godunov's wife, ballerina Lyudmila Vlasova, gave firm assurances that she did not want to join him.

He divorced Vlasova in 1982 and struck up a romantic alliance with actress Jacqueline Bisset.

Godunov said he will celebrate his new citizenship by eating 'a hamburger stuffed with caviar. Of course, some champagne and a little scotch too.'

Godunov, born on the Russian island of Sakhalin, was a classmate of Mikhail Baryshnikov, another Bolshoi defector, at Riga State Ballet School in the late 1950s.

In the United States, he danced with the American Ballet Theatre, which hired Bayshnikov as its artistic director in 1980. Godunov and the public alike were shocked when the American company fired him in 1982.

He formed his own touring company of dancers and also appeared in motion pictures including 'Witness' in 1985 and 'The Money Pot' in 1986.

Godunov has been living in New York and in Hollywood.

Greeted by a crowd of newsmen and photographers on the steps of the courthouse, he was asked how it felt to be a citizen.

'I am a citizen. I like this country. It's a great country. That's why I came here ... my life is wonderful. I have no regrets.'

Godunov said he would like to see his mother.

'It's getting better there with (Soviet leader) Gorbachev,' he said. 'Maybe they'll let her go, I'd like her to visit.'

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