Outside Edge: Clare Bayley on the International Workshop Festival

Ta TUM ta-ta-ta-ta-ta ta-ta-ta tum Tum,' says Johnny Hutch, the septuagenarian acrobat and vaudeville star, demonstrating a little dance routine to a group of aspiring young workshoppers in a sweaty dance studio in King's Cross. 'Don't worry about the shuffles, they'll come naturally once you know the beats.'

For the past six years the International Theatre Festival has provided a platform for Hutch, and scores of legendary performers like him, to hand down his skill and knowledge to new generations of theatre-makers. This year will be his last. Even the man who won the World Circus Championships for performing a twisting back somersault at the age of 64 has to stop some time.

'I call this the bits and pieces, the balletic bits, the twirls. This is the kind of thing you don't get these days, and we've got to get back to it,' Hutch insists.

His routines could scarcely be more different from those being practised downstairs. Here, Piotr Tomaszuk, from the Polish company Teatr Wierszalin, has concealed 10 actors beneath chairs and tables and bits of wood. One of them takes up a carved wooden Christ and begins to narrate an episode of St Mark's Gospel. Piotr Tomaszuk's work is influenced by the great Polish directors Kantor and Grotowski, but his productions incorporate carved statues animated by the actors in a style which is at once archetypal and contemporary. As another actor emerges from the wreckage to narrate the same episode, this time from the Gospel according to St Matthew, Tomaszuk calls a halt to the proceedings. He patiently explains again: 'You, Matthew, don't like Mark's version of the story. It is not literary, it is not good. But you must have the Christ before you can speak your version, so you must take it from him. Try again.'

The annual festival takes place in four cities over two- and-a-half months, offering various workshops from Brazilian capoeira to Japanese Butoh. This year there is a series of discussions at the ICA in London, and the festival has drawn teachers and students from all over the world. Workshops in Derry, Nottingham and Glasgow are themed to respond to local concerns.

Back in London, Alan Dunnett, an actor, has just done a workshop with the Japanese noh and kabuki master Shiro Daimon. 'It's taught me a different way of walking, breathing and considering character,' he says. 'It gives me a new perspective on my own work.'

The festival runs until 11 Nov (Booking: 071-580 8825)

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