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16 February 2023, 17:48
A German ballet director smeared dog faeces on a critic’s face, after taking offence to a review she wrote of his production.
Ballet director Marco Goecke has been sacked from the Hannover State Opera, after attacking a critic with dog excrement on Saturday. He later apologised for the incident and described his actions as “disgraceful”.
The German opera house said his “irresponsible actions” have “deeply unsettled the audience” and “massively damaged” the opera house’s reputation.
Goecke, the ballet director and head choreographer at the Hannover State Opera, confronted Huester, who is dance critic for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), in the opera house’s crowded foyer during an interval, the publication reported.
Huester had recently criticised the world premiere of In the Dutch Mountains, a production Goecke staged at The Hague, the seat of government in the Netherlands. In her review, Huester said the audience was “alternately driven mad and killed by boredom”.
On Saturday, Goecke accused Huester of being responsible for people cancelling season tickets in Hannover. The director then produced a paper bag filled with animal faeces, and smeared the contents across the critic’s face, before swiftly escaping through the foyer.
Huester identified the contents as dog poo, and “screamed”, she recalls in an account of the incident.
After being taken to the bathroom to clean her face, Huester drove to a police station and filed a criminal complaint. The incident is still being investigated by German police.
The Hanover opera house had already announced it was suspending Goecke with immediate effect and called on the director to apologise “comprehensively”.
In a written statement, Mr Goecke said: “I would like to apologise sincerely to all concerned, first and foremost to Ms Huester, for my absolutely unacceptable act.
“In retrospect, I am clearly aware that this was a disgraceful act in the heat of the moment and an overreaction,” he added.
But Goecke went on to criticise Huester for her “often nasty reviews”, adding: “I apologise for the fact that I finally blew my top, but I also ask for a certain understanding at least for the reasons why this happened.”
Goecke added that he had intended to dispose of the bag of excrement, which was produced earlier in the day by his elderly dachshund.
While the director argued that he reacted in the heat of the moment, Huester has maintained that it was a premeditated attack. “What kind of an apology is this supposed to be” she asked on 3sat TV, as reported German news agency dpa.
Goecke has been a ballet director at the German theatre since 2019, and received the German Dance prize in 2022.
In a statement on its website, the Hanover opera house said it was “appalled” by the incident, adding that Ms Huester’s “personal integrity” had been violated “in an unspeakable way”.
Hannover Opera added that Goecke’s “impulsive reaction” had “violated” all its rules of conduct and “caused massive damage to the Hannover State Opera and State Ballet”.
On Monday, FAZ described the “humiliating” incident as “not only an act of bodily harm but also an attempt to intimidate our free, critical view of art”.
Germany’s journalists’ union responded by saying: “An artist must endure criticism, even if it may seem excessive. Anyone who reacts to criticism with violence is not acceptable.”