In 2007, the world celebrated the 175th anniversary of birth of Charles Dodgson, whose pen name was Lewis Carroll. Dodgson often rowed on the quiet Oxford canal with his colleague Liddell’s little daughters entertaining them with stories about a girl who jumped into a rabbit hole and found herself in a strange and unpredictable world. After Alice Liddell implored the storyteller to write out his fantasies, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” were born. But how did a production based on Carroll’s book become a “Russian play”? Here entered another name, that of Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest 20th century writers who wrote equally well in Russian and English. Few know that in 1923, he translated “Alice in Wonderland.” Nabokov and Carroll had a lot in common -— Ox-Cam education and professorship, math and chess genius and love for logics. Carroll’s themes of chess, playing cards, and a young girl in curious circumstances would later occur and reoccur in the translator’s own work. Nabokov was collaborator rather than just a translator.
Nabokov sought to “translate” the situation of the novel into one familiar to the Russian child. He renamed Alice “Anya”, which is a common Russian girl’s name, rather than transliterating it into the essentially foreign Alisa. He transformed other characters so that they would ﬁt into a Russian milieu and managed to turn out the most hilarious parodies guaranteed to amuse any Russian child bored to tears at having been forced to memorize tons of redundant information and moralistic tales (Leigh Kimmel). Half a century later, Vladimir Vysotsky, the “Russian Elvis” -— cult singer, songwriter, poet and actor -— wrote a musical, “Alisa” which still forms the regular stock of quotes for any Russian. Vysotsky, a semi-outcast and implicit critic of the Communist regime, was attracted to the fearless girl and absurd and dream-like world of Carroll’s book. The play combined Nabokov’s translation with Vysotsky’s music thus turning the familiar “Alice in Wonderland” into a truly Russian experience.
Notes from Julia Nemirovskaya, the play’s director and script writer:
“This musical play was a result of collaboration of friends struck by love for languages, music and theater. Or else how a group of college students and native Russians with busy schedules could spend days and nights practicing Rabbit steps, Frog singing and stealing tarts? I am so grateful to this fantastic Cast for an opportunity to see love, devotion and talent at work! The most amazing Alice I have ever seen was Eugene Roosevelt Middle School student Anna Polishchuk, a young girl endowed with exquisite acting talent, musicality, and diligence! Could the rabbit-hole where Anya-Alice jumps one afternoon be a way out for all of us? Are we not drawn by a different reality where anything small can become huge, and where all we know becomes new and vibrant and perplexing?”