Photo: Dpa Picture Alliance/Alamy
An award-winning German ballet company director who smeared his dog’s feces on a dance critic’s face has not apologized, saying he was responding to decades of “scathing criticism”.
Marco Goecke admitted in an interview with broadcaster NDR that his “means of attack” were “certainly not super”, but said he acted impulsively when he saw the journalist, Wiebke Hüster.
Goecke, the winner of the 2022 German Dance Prize, is being investigated by police on charges of criminal assault and has been suspended from his position as head of the ballet company of the Hanoverian State Opera and banned from entering the opera house.
There has been a flurry of condemnations over the incident. The theater in northern Germany, where Goecke has worked since 2019, urged him to apologize and explain his actions to management, saying he had done “huge damage to his reputation and Hüster” deeply offended”.
Meanwhile, Leander Haussmann, a leading film and theater director, told NDR Kultur: “Here is a colleague who has stumbled over his own sense of importance. This is a crime. And if he does not ask for forgiveness, he has no place in our ranks; he is no longer an artist. We’re about being human, having a moral attitude, we don’t do such a thing, not even in the name of art, and he won’t get any support.”
Falko Mohrs, the minister of science and culture in the state of Lower Saxony, where Hanover is located, said the incident was unjustifiable. “Everyone should be able to handle criticism,” he said. “Using violence and attacking someone is simply unforgivable and unacceptable.”
The police rely on witness statements because Goecke threw away the dog feces and Hüster cleaned her face immediately afterwards.
Goecke and Hüster both reported meeting for the first time during the intermission of Goecke’s latest Saturday night production. Goecke said he confronted Hüster and wanted to speak to her about her criticism of his recent production with the Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague. Hüster, who has been a dance critic for the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine for some twenty years, called the performance ‘boring’ and ‘incoherent’ in her report.
“I told her ‘I’m human,'” he said in the NDR interview, describing her response as “aggressive, arrogant and condescending.” He admitted to smearing her face with his dog’s feces, saying it was not premeditated, but that he acted “in the heat of the moment”.
He said: “My old dachshund had gone to the toilet in his bag, which sometimes happens at his age, and I had just put the poop in a bag and was about to throw it outside.”
Hüster, in her version of events, said that Goecke approached her in the busy foyer and blocked her way, telling her that she should be denied entry to the theatre, as she always wrote negative reviews of his productions.
“I told him ‘no, that’s not true, there are productions of you that I have cherished very much. It’s not true,” she said. “Then suddenly he took this bag out of his pocket. With the open side of the bag, he rubbed the dog poop on my face. When I felt what he had done, I screamed. I was panicking.”
People around her were stunned into silence, she said. A woman later told her how she had chased Goecke through the foyer. “She tried to get help and get hold of the man, but someone from the theater came and led Marco Goecke to a separate room,” she said.
Goecke said he regretted the incident, but did not apologize. “I think the resources I chose were certainly not great. Absolute. I think from a societal point of view, using such a method will not gain approval or respect,” he said, sitting on a park bench accompanied by his 14-year-old dog, Gustav.
He added: “I am also a human being who has never done anything like this before, and of course I was a bit shocked in that regard. And the method I used was certainly not good.”
Gustav is a personality in his own right who accompanies Goecke everywhere. The dog inspired his 2019 production with the Paris Opera, Dogs Sleep.
Goecke seemed to try to justify the attack by suggesting that in its scatological nature it was like-for-like revenge for what he described as years of negative criticism.
“She threw shit at me for over 20 years. And at one point I asked myself if I would want to, how would other people react who work so hard and have been dirty for so long. I don’t think a hard-working person would last that long,” he said.
Hüster said in an interview with the BBC that she was shocked to hear from colleagues that Goecke was allowed to bow at the end of the evening’s performance, “pretending nothing had happened”.
She called the incident, which she said was premeditated, an “attack on press freedom”.