Montpellier Dance Festival France June 19 - July 4 In the midst of a heat wave in Montpellier, France, it was Winter Variations by our own maverick Emanuel Gat that took the dance festival by storm. His latest creation was a chilling duet, performed at Montpellier's grandest venue. This is no small matter, since the festival is one of Europe's more prestigious dance festivals, directed by Jean-Paul Montanari. For many, Gat's creation stood out as a glittering diamond among the jewels of the festival. This full-length creation derives from Winter Journey, an earlier short duet, choreographed for himself and dancer Roy Assaf. Both carried out the new Winter Variations, set to music by Richard Strauss, Riad al Sunbati and the Beatles. The striking lighting designed by Gat transformed the stage into vertical zones in shades of gray that highlighted subtle mood changes corresponding to emotional contents of the work. The dancers exposed layers and depths of male camaraderie with sensitivity, delicacy, honesty and human solidarity in a way that was ever-so-touching and sad, yet strong. Its effect was breathtaking: At times fierce as the cold Mistral rushing down from the Alps, and at other times gentle as a zephyr. This forceful production is perhaps Gat's most important work yet. He had an impressive season with an April premiere of Hark, an invited ballet he choreographed - on pointe - for 12 female ballet dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet, considered by many as the best ballet company today. The two-week-long Montpellier Festival (June 19-July 4), which enjoys a budget of â‚¬3.13 million, hosted a couple dozen works from around the globe. Most of them were world or French premieres, including works by regulars on its list, such as local artist Mathilde Monnier, who put on an installation on the Geli Church's floor, surrounded by 70 amateur participants from four generations. Another regular customer is German choreographer Reymund Hoghe, former dramaturge of the late Pina Bausch, who performed his conceptual duet Without a Title with Kenyan-born Faustine Linyekula. While Linyekula is black, perfectly proportioned, strong and young and movement seems to flow naturally from inside, Hoghe is white, small, and an older man with a protruding deformity; his movement is awkward, self-conscious and derives from cerebral motivation. Artistic director Jean-Paul Montanari "adopted" him 10 years ago and made him a permanent guest at the festival, giving him credit - no one else did. During my eight-day stay, some companies offered more satisfying products than others, among them a Brazilian group run by Bruno Beltrau from Rio who turned a hip-hop based group of nine wild youths into high-flying, turbo-propelled dancers with the highest stamina ever. Those ranging devils were a pleasure for sore eyes. Abundant moments of beauty and fine dancing were to be seen in the Ballet de Lorraine's Tragic/Love by Stephen Petronio. More beauty could be seen in a rare visit of the world-renowned Mark Morris Dance Group with Mozart Dances: Eleven, Double and Grand Duo. Morris was more provocative in the past and was called "America's bad boy" - as he reminded us - grinning with his impish smile. But today, his choreography is a variation on neo-Classical style, with strong, healthy dancers. He still has a loose tongue, and at a press meeting he targeted New York City Ballet, the US's leading ballet company known for its exquisite repertoire by the iconic Balanchine. Morris announced that he doesn't go to NYCB concerts since he can't stand to see how they "trash" Balanchine works; he also expressed disinterest in listening to or talking about the work's process: "Please don't invite me to see a work in progress. Call me when it's finished, and I'll buy a ticket." Morris is a prolific choreographer, best known for his keen perception of music. His dances follow the paths suggested by music, its intricacies and nuances. In a few months, we will be able to see several works of his over two different evenings performed by his company at TAPAC in Tel Aviv.