February 26. 2024. 4:11

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German ballet director allegedly attacks critic with dog excrement

Hanover’s state opera house has suspended its ballet director after he allegedly smeared a dance critic with dog excrement.

During the interval of a premiere on Saturday evening guests say dance director Marco Goecke attacked the critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) newspaper.

In her review of Mr Goecke’s last piece, critic Wiebke Hüster said the audience was “alternately crazed and dying from boredom ... [and] you have to blame the choreographer for both”. According to a local Hanover newspaper, Mr Goecke felt personally attacked by the review and planned his retaliation.

The FAZ reported on Monday that he began verbally abusing Ms Hüster during the interval on Saturday and asked why she was attending. “He then pulled out a paper bag of animal faeces and smeared our dance critic’s face with the contents,” it added. “After that he made his way unhindered through the crowded foyer.”

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Ms Hüster said she “screamed” when she realised what had happened. An opera staff member helped Ms Hüster clean herself up, after which the critic went to a local police station to file charges against the ballet director.

Hanover Opera director Laura Berman said she was “shocked” by the incident, and would now “review the labour law consequences” for Mr Goecke.

Hanover ballet director since 2019, Mr Goecke (50) was considered a force of renewal within the German dance scene. In an interview with NDR public television, the ballet director conceded his approach was “not super ... I am a little shocked by myself”.

On the social media platform Instagram he insisted that, after 25 years in the dance world, “bad reviews were immaterial to me, but there are limits”. In heated exchanges with other Instagram users, he accused his critics of being “Nazis” and “losers”. When a user suggested he would soon be unemployed, he replied: “I have so much money you can only dream of.”

With his future in Hanover now unclear, Germany’s leading journalists’ association attacked the opera house statement as “completely inadequate”.

“The attack on the FAZ journalist is also an attack on press freedom,” said Frank Rieger, head of the German Journalists’ Association (DJV) in Lower Saxony.

The FAZ condemned the attack as a “humiliating act...more than bodily harm but an attempt to intimidate our free, critical view of art”.

Saturday’s attack is the latest in a series of recent pushbacks against German theatre and dance critics. Two years ago Hamburg’s state theatre director Karin Beier described theatre critics in an interview as “shit on the arm of art”. Last year a German theatre actor and director described a critical reviewer as psychologically disturbed, adding “your time is over, darling”.

In an era of social media promotion, German theatre critics insist they still have an important role to play – particularly in the subsidised theatre world, which is largely dependent on taxpayers’ money.

“Spending of tax money should definitely be controlled,” said Simon Strauss, theatre critic with the FAZ. “And cultural policy – which mostly has no idea about theatre – has to rely on what experts think of it.”