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German director suspended after critic smeared with dog poo

February 13, 2023

A German opera house has suspended its chief ballet director for allegedly smearing the face of a journalist with dog excrement. The reported assault came after a scathing review of the ballet director's last show.

Marco Goecke, designated ballet director of the Hanover State Opera, stands in the opera foyer
Marco Goecke became the ballet director of the Hanover State Opera at the start of the 2019-2020 seasonImage: Christophe Gateau/dpa/picture alliance

The Hanover State Opera in northern Germany said it was suspending ballet director and choreographer Marco Goecke with immediate effect on Monday — as well as imposing a house ban — following a reported assault over the weekend. 

Goecke allegedly confronted dance critic Wiebke Hüster in the theatre's busy foyer and smeared her face with dog excrement, according to newspaper reports.

What is alleged to have happened?

Hüster, who writes for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), had been at the Saturday premiere of the ballet "Glaube-Liebe-Hoffnung" (Faith-Love-Hope) at the opera house in Hanover.

During a break in the show, Goecke — who was one of the show's choreographers — allegedly approached Hüster and threatened to ban her, blaming her for ticket subscription cancellations in Hanover.

The FAZ reported that he had grown increasingly upset before getting physical. "He pulled out a paper bag with animal feces and mauled the face of our dance critic with the contents. After that, he was able to go his own way unhindered through the crowded foyer," the paper said.

The alleged incident followed a negative review published in the Saturday FAZ by Hüster of Goecke's new show "In the Dutch Mountains."

Hüster said the show, which had recently opened in The Hague, was like being "alternately driven mad and killed by boredom."

In its account, the FAZ said it considered "the humiliating act to be an attempt to intimidate our free, critical view of art, in addition to the offense of bodily harm. Goecke's crossing of boundaries reveals the disturbed relationship between an artist and criticism."

How has the opera house responded?

In a statement on its website, the Hanover State Opera said the theater management had suspended Goecke and banned him from the premises until further notice "to protect the ballet ensemble and the state theater from further damage."

"We are appalled by what has happened and very much regret that the escalation has occurred. Immediately after the incident, we contacted the journalist and apologized to her personally."

"With his impulsive reaction to the journalist, Marco Goecke violated all the rules of conduct of the Hannover State Opera and thus unsettled the audience, the employees of the house and the general public to the extreme."

In the next few days, the opera added that the Lower Saxony State Theater — the umbrella public arts body that presides over the venue — would give the director a chance to "apologize comprehensively and explain this to the theater management before further steps are taken."

Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier

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Richard Connor Reporting on stories from around the world, with a particular focus on Europe — especially Germany.