And to think, Donna Uchizono was going to become a gynecologist.
Fortunately, the acclaimed choreographer didn't want to play tennis.
Confused? Uchizono explains.
"I had planned to be a gynecologist," she says. "But I came across dance in high school. I had to choose a P.E. elective. I'd taken all the other options. Tennis was left, and I was like, 'Are there any other options?'"
A friend mentioned a choreography class.
"I didn't even know what choreography was," she says.
Following a performance in which Uchizono and a friend depicted a tree being struck by lightning — the two stood back-to-back and fell — it all became very clear. The new student was a natural.
Uchizono ditched plans for medical school and enrolled at Orange Coast College, where her ambitions were nurtured.
Today, Uchizono is a preeminent force in the contemporary dance community. Since her debut in 1988, she has captured the respect and imagination of the highest members of the dance world.
Her Spoleto performances include the pieces State of Heads and Low.
For Uchizono, every piece has its own vocabulary, "I usually have a concept that I use as a spring board," she says. In State of Heads, that concept was based on her feelings about the separation between federal government and the American people. First performed in 1999, the piece builds on that idea.
"We were all waiting for Y2K, and it became clear we were waiting in giantless times," she says. "A piece emerged with endearing characters, all waiting for something."
Friends say it's her Waiting for Godot, which she finds amusing.
"Right," she laughs. "To be compared to Beckett."
Low, which is paired with State at Spoleto, is a departure from the norm. It was inspired by a trip to Argentina, and it focuses on gender issues. "I usually keep my dancers very neutral," she says, "but the time in South America allowed for further expression."
The company worked with a local tribe and studied tango, which inspired the choreographer to think about opposites. She also became intrigued with the way water swirls down the toilet in the opposite direction of what we in the Northern Hemisphere are used to. For Low, Uchizono built on the counter-clockwise movement.
Gender relations came into play with the influence of tango.
"I was dancing with this instructor and he said, 'My job is to put the woman on top, to make her look good,'" she says. Taking that into account, Uchizono begins Low with a female dancer laying on top of a male.
"She holds this angle that looks so peaceful," Uchizono says. "But my dancers always want me to tell reporters that it's much harder than it looks."
Donna Uchizono Company • Spoleto Festival USA • $32 • 1 hour 20 min. • May 30, June 1 at 7 p.m.; June 1 at 12 p.m.; June 2 at 8 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100