On Saturday night, Wiebke Hüster, a German dance critic, was taking a break from watching a ballet program at Hanover’s main opera house when the choreographer Marco Goecke appeared in front of her.
That morning, Ms. Hüster, 57, had published a review of Mr. Goecke’s latest work, and it wasn’t positive. Watching his new dance, “In the Dutch Mountains,” audiences would feel like they’re either “going insane” or “being killed by boredom,” she wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a major German newspaper.
So it was perhaps unsurprising when Mr. Goecke, 50, the ballet director at the Hanover State Opera, confronted her, asking why she wrote so negatively about him.
What was a surprise was that Mr. Goecke — who is known for his pet dachshund, Gustav, as well as for his work — then pulled a bag filled with dog excrement out of his pocket and rubbed the feces on Ms. Hüster’s face.
Ms. Hüster, a dance critic for 25 years, said in a phone interview that she was so shocked that she started to scream. “It was terrible,” she said. As soon as she composed herself, she reported Mr. Goecke — who last year was jointly awarded Germany’s main dance prize — to the police.
On Monday, Hanover’s police department said in a statement that it had opened an investigation into a case of bodily harm and insult. “The investigations are at the beginning,” it added.
The Hanover State Opera said in a statement posted on its website that it had suspended Mr. Goecke from his position as ballet director, a role he has held since 2019. His “impulsive” action had not only offended Ms. Hüster, but “massively damaged” the ballet company, it added. The opera house has asked Mr. Goecke to explain his actions and said it would wait to hear from him before deciding on further steps, the statement said. (The opera house did not respond to a request for an interview with its director or with Mr. Goecke.)
Mr. Goecke has been a star in Europe for more than a decade. In addition to his role at the Hanover State Opera, he is the associate choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater, a company that has performed his work in New York. Dans Theater said in a statement that Mr. Goecke’s actions were “contrary to our values” and that the company was waiting to speak with him before making further comments.
Manuel Brug, a critic for the German newspaper Die Welt, said in an interview that Mr. Goecke was “the most important ballet choreographer in Germany.” His signature style, Mr. Brug added, involving rapid arm movements, makes dancers look “like flying birds.”
Since the incident, Ms. Hüster said, she has been focused on doing “everything in my power to heal myself,” but much of Germany’s dance world is trying to understand why a respected choreographer would attack a critic, and whether it represented a sign of a damaging shift in how artists view criticism.
Ms. Hüster said that she received a few emails a year complaining about her work, but that she had never felt under threat in the dance world. She added that she would attend a ballet performance as soon as she could.
“I’m a professional,” she said. “I will go back to my work.” But, she added, she would not see Mr. Goecke’s work again.