The proverbial excrement hit the fan in Hanover, Germany last week, when the Hanover Opera’s award-winning ballet director and chief choreographer, Marco Goecke, objected in a most peculiar way to bad reviews of his work by the venerable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) dance critic Wiebke Hüster. Reviewing a production of Goecke’s titled In the Dutch Mountains, recently given at the Netherlands Dance Theatre in The Hague, where Goecke is an associate choreographer, Hüster described his work as “boring” and “disjointed” before concluding that “one alternates between a state of feeling insane and being killed by boredom.” Goecke’s work in the idiom of modern dance is known for jerking movements that are thought by some to resemble the movement of birds.
On February 11, Hüster, 57, was attending a performance of another Goecke production, titled Faith – Love – Hope, in Hanover, when the choreographer, 50, spotted her at intermission right after walking his signature pet dachshund, who is often photographed with Goecke and inspired his Paris Opéra ballet Dogs Sleep. Goecke and Hüster had never met before, but Hüster has a long history of reviewing Goecke’s work in a way that has displeased the choreographer. Like any responsible European pet owner, Goecke (pronounced rather like ‘gucky’) had collected his dog’s feces in a small bag, which he later said he intended to dispose of properly. Instead, after threatening to have Hüster banned from the theater and alleging that her bad reviews had caused patrons to cancel their subscriptions, he deposited the dog’s waste in her face. Hüster screamed, but the people around her were too stunned to react in any coherent way. Goecke vanished into the intermission crowd. An eyewitness who followed him later reported that another employee of the theater ushered him into a service door. To Hüster’s chagrin, Goecke was left unmolested and took a bow at the end of the performance as though nothing had happened.
The smeared critic washed her face and left the theater to file a criminal complaint, which is currently under investigation by German police. Laura Berman, the Hanover Opera’s American intendant, apologized to Hüster and announced that she was studying employment actions in reference to German labor law. She subsequently confirmed that Goecke was suspended from employment and banned from the opera house pending further action. Meanwhile, the Hanover Opera publicly urged Goecke to apologize and explain his actions, saying that he had caused “massive damage” to the theater’s reputation and “deeply offended” Hüster. The Netherlands Dance Theatre, where Goecke is also employed, has taken no action pending further discussion with him but stated that “we deeply regret that this incident took place, in which Marco Goecke violated the personal integrity of the person concerned. This action is contrary to our values.”
Hüster, who believes Goecke’s actions were premeditated, has characterized his assault as a brutal attack on press freedom. In this she was supported by Frank Rieger, chair of the German state of Lower Saxony’s Association of German Journalists, who called the assault “nothing less than an attack on press freedom.” Hüster’s paper also stood up for her, editorializing the smearing as a “horrendous incident” and an “attempt at intimidation towards our free, critical artistic appreciation … The incident shows in its appalling method of physical violence what is often thought and said in artistic circles about criticism and critics.” Lower Saxony’s culture minister Falko Mohrs reasoned that “everyone has to be able to deal with criticism … to use violence and attack someone is simply inexcusable and unacceptable.” Hanover’s Green Party mayor declared that attacks on press freedom have “no place” in his city.
Goecke went silent for a couple of days but eventually gave a televised interview to the German channel NDR. Rather than apologize—or simply say little or nothing, as any competent lawyer would advise—he whined about his hurt feelings. “She threw [metaphorical] shit at me for over 20 years,” Goecke said of Hüster, “at some point I asked myself whether I want that. How would other people react who work hard, having dirt thrown at them over such a long time frame? I don’t think any hardworking person would put up with that for any length of time.” Of course, many do, without resorting to disgusting and possibly criminal assaults. Goecke faintly recognized this, admitting “the means I chose were certainly not super … making use of such a method will not receive approval or be respected.” He did not, however, express any regret or concern, instead citing work-related stress to explain his conduct.
On February 16, Berman announced that Goecke’s contract with the Hanover Opera had been dissolved “by mutual agreement,” and that the choreographer’s access to the theater’s premises had been restored pending his final departure.
Is Goecke’s career over? That remains to be seen, but probably not. Leaving a job “by mutual agreement” is a far cry from unilateral termination. The milder arrangement likely reflects Germany’s strong employment law protections, which probably did not permit the quick or easy dismissal of an employee who assaulted a non-coworker without causing permanent damage. As of this writing, Goecke’s other employer, the Netherlands Dance Theatre, has not ended its association with him. German criminal law is evidently not strong enough to enforce Goecke’s arrest despite his public admission of guilt and multiple eyewitness accounts of the assault. As a first-time offender who caused no permanent harm to the victim, within the rubric of social democratic jurisprudence he is unlikely to face jail or, probably, any serious sanction. The punctilious police investigators even noted that Hüster destroyed the most incriminating evidence by washing her face.
While many European cultural and political leaders have denounced the assault, few if any have demanded Goecke’s exorcism from professional life or general unpersoning. Not one has yet framed the incident as a case of ‘violence against women,’ condemned ‘the patriarchy,’ or explored the ‘intersectional’; factors that the identitarian Left might argue caused such a horrible event. Compare these non-reactions to the hysteria currently coursing through the Anglosphere, where mere hints of having caused offense have resulted in the swift and comprehensive ruin of men of much greater renown and talent than the violent and disgusting Marco Goecke. We would do well to remember that some of our leading artists are permanently off the stage over unproved harassment allegations, perceived discrimination, insufficiently denouncing a war, or other intangible transgressions that one might say do not amount to a pile of dog poop. Regardless of Goecke’s ultimate fate, however, using it as a weapon in the culture wars is probably what he will be most famous for.