PARIS, Sept. 19 (AFP) - The 29th Paris Autumn Festival embarks Wednesday on its annual odyssey through the contemporary arts around the world, launching an extensive programme of music, theatre and dance in which the focus will be on Iran.

More than 35 shows are on offer during the three-month festival which will also take in the plastic arts, cinema and a story-telling festival.

One of the hightlights will be the first-ever performances outside the Muslim world of Tazieh, the religious theatre that blends ritual and opera to relate -- in the manner of the medieval mystery plays of western Europe -- the events of the year 680 CE that led to the schism between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.

Musically, the spotlight will be on the Khorassan region of northeastern Iran, cradle of Persian language and culture, whose repertoire of sacred and profane songs are the subject of a two-week season commencing Tuesday next week.

Fifteen story-tellers from as many countries are lined up for the "Babel Tales" programme that begins Wednesday with participants from Iran, Colombia and Greece. Other languages featured include Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Maori and Creole.

Shakespeare's "Hamlet" comes under the microscope with two separate interpretations, first in English by the Paris-based British director Peter Brook, followed by a German-language version directed by Peter Zadek with actress Angela Winkler in the title role.

The new Italian theatre is showcased with work by the Societas Raffaello Sanzio, the Teatrino Clandestino of Bologna and the Genesi troupe, while mystics of the three great monotheist religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are highlighted in a series of readings under the heading "Sayings of Light and Love".

After its recent triumphs at the major European film festivals -- three awards at Cannes in May and the Silver Lion at Venice earlier this month -- Iranian cinema is featured in a three-week season in November, along with a retrospective of the work of Canadian director David Cronenberg.

The German painter-sculptor Anselm Kiefer presents an exhibition of work inspired by the Jewish Kabbala, while the New York-based Iranian photographer-videast Shirin Neshat brings images focusing on the fate of women in her home country.

Modern dance is represented by, among others, Meg Stuart of Belgium, Saburo Teshigawara of Japan and Mikhail Baryshnikov of the United States.

The Autumn Festival, budgeted at more than 25 million francs (3.25 million dollars), has been growing in scale in recent years, totalling more than 120, 000 paying entries in 1999.

"This year we have a larger programme than ever before and our shows are playing in larger theatres. Traditionally most of them are sell-outs, or nearly so, so we're hoping to receive more than 150,000 spectators for the festival as a whole," spokeswoman Isabelle Baragan said.

For festival director Alain Crombecque, presenting the programme, the diversity of the languages and art forms on display until December 30 "testifies to the renewal of the act of creation from one generation to the next and to the power and relevance of the stories and myths they express."

Full programme details can be obtained on the festival's Internet site www. festival-automne.com.

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