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Stage Planner: iLuminate breaks it down at the Straz, orchestra salutes Gilbert and Sullivan

LOCAL TALENT: SIMON MENDOZA

Most high schools didn't offer break dancing instruction in the early 2000s. Kids hungry to learn couldn't get help at dance studios or the local rec center either.

So they turned to the only source they had: each other.

In Tampa, a small group of aspiring dancers included Simon Mendoza, who attended Riverview High. He returns to the area Sunday as part of the dance group iLuminate. The troupe, which combines hip-hop dance with surrealistic suits that glow in the dark, broke through on America's Got Talent in 2011 and has been touring ever since.

Mendoza and a few friends met twice a week at the Crossover Church, then located near the Lowry Park Zoo. Now 29, he values the one-on-one interactions that are easy to forget when so many learn on YouTube.

"These are moves you can't pick up in a day or two," Mendoza said. "I compare it to martial arts and gymnastics more than dancing — the muscle memory it takes to execute, the physical interaction with other break dancers."

Dancing led to acting and back. Mendoza has acted in Glee, a supporting role in international dance film High Strung and another key role in the TV movie Dance Camp on YouTube Red. The first four months of each year, he performed as a featured act with the Harlem Globetrotters.

A fan of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, he has always gravitated to physical comedy. In 2013, he joined iLuminate, a job he says forces dancers to stay on top of their game.

"Being in the dark causes you to physically act with your body since they can't see your face," he said.

Mendoza plays the Lt. Bob character, better known as simply "the cop."

"With all of the current events happening right now, I feel inspired to mesh a cop personality with a break dance personality, somebody who is an authority but also wants to be cool with the hip-hoppers."

iLuminate's performance begins at 8 p.m. Sunday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35-$45. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

YOUR CUE: TAMPA BAY IMPROV FESTIVAL

Some of the best improv artists in the country host workshops through Sunday at the Tampa Bay Improv Festival. Titles include "Getting Emotional" (Robert Long); "Connect, Confess, Convey" (Kat Kenny); "Healing Your Sick Scene" (Jeff Quintana); and "Strip Down the Game and Make it Broad" (Amey Goerlich), among many others. The festival starts at 6 p.m. Thursday and runs through Saturday at the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N, St. Petersburg. $20, packages available. tampabayimprovfestival.com.

RIGHT GOOD COFFEE: GILBERT AND SULLIVAN

Gilbert and Sullivan, whose deftly satirical operettas delighted American audiences, were long dismissed as lightweights by scholars, their influence on the development of the American musical unacknowledged. The best Broadway composers held a different view, according to Winthrop University theater professor Andrew Vorder Bruegge.

"Innumerable composers, lyricists and librettists of the mid 20th century have acknowledged that they turned to Gilbert and Sullivan for inspiration," Vorder Bruegge wrote of the writing team, listing Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim among the duo's biggest fans.

The Florida Orchestra pays tribute this week in a coffee concert, with soprano Maren Weinberger, tenor Joel Malina and baritone John Dooley singing hits from the likes of H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, led by principal guest conductor Stuart Malina, above. The concert starts at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, and 11 a.m. Thursday at the Mahaffey Theater. A pre-concert conversation starts at 10 a.m. $24-$42. (727) 892-3338. floridaorchestra.org.

Stage Planner: iLuminate breaks it down at the Straz, orchestra salutes Gilbert and Sullivan 11/16/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 16, 2016 12:34pm]
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