Excrement on critics – On choreographer Marco Goecke’s attack on dance critic Wiebke Hüster

On 11 February 2023, Marco Goecke, the ballet director of the Hanover State Opera, physically assaulted Wiebke Hüster, the dance critic of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), during the intermission of the premiere of the dance evening “Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung”. In the course of an argument about Wiebke Hüster’s derogatory reviews of Goecke’s choreographies, Goecke pulled a bag of dog excrement from his dachshund Gustav out of his pocket and smeared the contents in Hüster’s face. The Hanover State Opera then suspended Goecke and banned him from the house.

Marco Goecke’s action was a performance. All the characteristics apply: in front of an audience, existential risk of the artist, crossing borders, de-fictionalisation of art. “She’s also been throwing shit at me for years,” says Marco Goecke. So it’s not only an action that seeks to repay like with like, but also the translation of a linguistic metaphor into physical action. And that, precisely, is Marco Goecke’s professional activity as a choreographer. So here someone has forgotten the difference between art and reality. And blurring this difference is one of the common strategies of contemporary art. It is a case of loss of reality. What is an effect in art is a crime in reality.

Theatre critic Tobi Müller pointed out in his commentary that the aggravation of the climate between theatre criticism and theatre art, or the aggravation of the theatre-makers’ traditional aversion to critics, also comes from the existential fears of both sides. Both sides have an increased need for public attention because the importance and regard of their activities in the public sphere is diminishing. Invective increases attention. Name-calling brings more clicks than compliments.

Karin Beier’s now frequently quoted bon mot about the “shit on the sleeve” is, in contrast, only a verbal gaffe with which she justifies why she does not read reviews. 1She is describing the effect of not only negative but also uninformed reviews. And therefor, theatre critics have to take a good look at themselves. The precarious financial position of theatre criticism also lowers its average standard. Today, there is neither the space (an available number of characters in a public medium) nor the thoroughness of description and analysis that theatre criticism by Rolf Michaelis or Hellmuth Karasek had (to stay with the Hamburg examples). Anyone who wants to write theatre criticism today cannot make a living from it. Anyone who wants to write theatre criticism today has to master the art of quick, concise, short writing. And that hardly makes you a serious interlocutor for theatre-makers.

Marco Goecke has put Karin Beier’s casual vulgarism into practice, as an act of revenge. Wiebke Hüster’s immediately preceding critique of Goecke’s dance evening “In the Dutch Mountains” in The Hague is an example of the common stylistic device of exaggeration: “While watching, one is alternately driven mad and killed by boredom. Every now and then there are two brilliant, coherent minutes. … It is an embarrassment and an impertinence, and the choreographer must be blamed for both all the more …”. (FAZ 11.2.2023)] But also a personal attack. With personal attacks on theatre-makers in reviews (“bloody” slurs) one must expect counter-reactions. But they have to remain verbal (the comment function at nachtkritik.de offers a forum for this). It is not true that Wiebke Hüster has tried to destroy Goecke journalistically for twenty years. For example, only recently she praised Goecke’s “magnificent realisation of Marguerite Duras’ novel The Lover” and combined this with an explicit advertisement for a visit to the theatre (FAZ 26.10.2022 and 01.03 2021). And in 2012, she praised Goecke’s Stuttgart choreography for “Dancer in the Dark” at length (FAZ 1.12.2012).

“Excrement on critics” is also the intensification of the principle of “mashed potatoes on art”. Symbolic communication is taking up more and more space in the public sphere. Those who have something to say say it through the flower (or through action). Demonstrations are becoming more and more similar to theatre performances (as the Federal Constitutional Court already stated in 1984 in its decision on the „Anachronistischer Zug“ ). Analogue communication, based on similarity, is more effective when it comes to affective effects than verbal communication. So Goecke has struck with the weapons at his disposal. Only he miscalculated the effect. The physical expression of his emotional state cannot count on the empathy of the audience as it does on stage. On the contrary, disgust hits him, pity the critic. Did no one really film the scene in the foyer of the Hanover theatre?


Three days after the incident, Marco Goecke has submitted a letter, which he understands as an apology. “I would like to apologise  sincerely {“ich möchte mich … aufrichtig entschuldigen”) to all those involved, first and foremost to Ms Hüster, for my action, which I absolutely do not condone. In hindsight, I clearly realise that this was a shameful act in the heat of the moment and an overreaction.”

The offender’s use of language “ich entschuldige mich” (literally “I forgive myself”, used as “I apologise”) in German is common today, but of course it should be “ich bitte um Entschuldigung” (literally “I ask to be forgiven”). Blame can only be forgiven by the one to whom evil has been done, not by the wrongdoer. Used in such a way, the phrase “Entschuldigung …” becomes a justification for effrontery. One is familiar with this when someone pushes his way forward in a queue with a muttered “excuse me”.

He also writes that it would be appropriate for all media to “reconsider a certain form of destructive, hurtful reporting that damages the entire cultural enterprise”. Cultural criticism must ask itself where it “crosses the line into insulting, denigrating works, bullying, attempting to create negative opinion and damaging business”. (SZ 14.02.23). So he justifies his attack again, shows no understanding for the fact that art only gains a social significance in the dispute of opinions.

If one wants to find “hurtful reporting” in Wiebke Hüster’s competent and balanced critique of „In the Dutch Mountains“, only the word “impudence” comes into question. This is a moral evaluation that is explicitly related to the person of the choreographer. It is not a verbal jury, not an insult, and moral judgements are permitted, even necessary, in public (politicians know a thing or two about this). Morality is also communication of respect, and that must be public. But it is a question of the critic’s self-control whether one allows oneself to be carried away by such outbursts against a person. In any case, one must (or wants to) expect reactions. However, not with dog excrement.

The clearest devaluation of Goecke by Hüster can be found, significantly, in her blog “Aufforderung zum Tanz” from 2012: “Marco Goecke, whose meaningless nullity dances are not needed by anyone”. This quote is in the context of a judgmental tour d’horizon through the German ballet scene, which does not leave a good hair on the German ballet dramaturgies, with the exception of Düsseldorf and Munich. The fact that this quote is found in an internet blog perhaps shows one of the causes of the aggravation of the tone between (some) critics and (some) theatre people. The internet is an emotion machine, the inhibition threshold for unbridled emotionality becomes lower compared to a newspaper printed on paper. Criteria for a good blog are, after all, speed of reaction, topicality, directness and subjectivity. With its comment code, nachtkritik.de is exemplary in containing such art-critical low blows.

  1. Here is the decisive section of the interview transcribed: “And there I think we don’t meet on a level that is really interesting to me. And then that in relation to what then unfortunately sticks. So really, to put it nicely in German, like shit on my sleeve, I think, no, I don’t do that.”

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