He Smeared Feces on a Critic, and Lost a Job. Now, He Wants to be Heard.

On Saturday night in Hanover’s main opera house, Marco Goecke, a renowned German choreographer, smeared dog feces from his aging dachshund, Gustav, on the face of a dance critic.

Now, five days later, Mr. Goecke, 50, has lost his job as ballet director there. On Thursday at a news conference in Hanover, Laura Berman, the opera house’s artistic director, announced that Mr. Goecke was leaving his post “by mutual agreement.”

That decision might be expected to draw a line under the bizarre affair, which has captured press attention around the world.

But Mr. Goecke’s career is far from over. In a telephone interview, Ms. Berman said the Hanover State Ballet would continue to perform his work; on Feb. 24, his piece “Hello Earth” will be part of a triple bill. Mr. Goecke’s works are “incomparable,” Ms. Berman said, and his art should be viewed separately from the unjustifiable incident.

“I do not believe in cancel culture,” she added.

And Mr. Goecke will retain his position with the Nederlands Dans Theater, an acclaimed Dutch company, for which he is an associate choreographer. On Tuesday, in a statement posted online, the company said that Mr. Goecke’s behavior was “contrary to our values” but that he had apologized.

The company is scheduled to perform Mr. Goecke’s “In the Dutch Mountains” across the Netherlands over the coming weeks.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, the choreographer — who has been charged with assault and is facing a court case — said he had “apologized deeply” for the incident. What he did to Wiebke Hüster, the critic for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, was “truly an awful thing,” he added.

But newspaper coverage of the incident had focused only on the dog feces, he said, whereas he wanted to start a debate about what should be allowed in arts criticism. Newspaper critics, he said, should not write in “a personal and hateful way,” especially when theaters and opera houses were still trying to tempt audiences back after pandemic shutdowns and interruptions.

“I’m still not free of this anger,” Mr. Goecke said. Ms. Hüster had written just two positive pieces about his work during his career, he said, and he felt many of her reviews were attempts to damage him.

“If I’d been a woman and the critic a man, this would be seen differently,” he said.

For more than a decade, Mr. Goecke has been a star in Europe. Manuel Brug, a critic for the German newspaper Die Welt, said in an interview that he made dancers look “like flying birds” and called him the most important choreographer in Germany.

Goecke at the Hanover opera house in 2019. “I’m still not free of this anger,” he said.Credit…Christophe Gateau/Picture Alliance, via Getty Images

On Tuesday, Sylvia Staude, a critic for the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, wrote that Mr. Goecke’s impulsive action was “a catastrophe” for both Hanover’s state opera, and “the art of dance.”

In an email, Ms. Staude said she had interviewed Mr. Goecke twice and had found him “very friendly, courteous.”

But four critics based outside of Germany said in interviews that they had received bizarre communications from him after giving his works negative reviews. Juan Michael Porter II said in a telephone interview that in 2016, when he was starting out as a critic, he wrote a review for HuffPost in which he said one of Mr. Goecke’s pieces “bobbed along for 12 minutes longer than was necessary to ever diminishing effect before finally going away.”

Soon afterward, Mr. Porter said he received an email from Mr. Goecke, “essentially asking, ‘Who are you to criticize the greatest choreographers in the world?’” When Mr. Porter didn’t reply, Mr. Goecke emailed a second time, calling him a coward for not responding.

Mr. Goecke denied emailing any critics. He said he didn’t use email and would never call himself a great choreographer. “It looks like I have a problem,” he added, “but that is not the case.” He welcomed constructive criticism, he said.

Ms. Berman of the Hanover State Opera said that in Mr. Goecke’s three years at the company there had been no problems with his behavior. “I never imagined he’d ever do anything remotely like this,” she said. “In normal everyday life, he is extremely honorable, respectful, empathetic.”

In the weeks before the incident, Mr. Goecke said he had been preparing for the premiere of his dance “In the Dutch Mountains” in the Netherlands. He felt under pressure to create a masterpiece, he said. He also had personal struggles. His mother was ill, he said, and his dog, 14 ½ years old, was coming to the end of its life.

“I was always thinking, ‘Do I have to carry him back to Germany in a plastic bag?’’ Mr. Goecke said.

Ms. Hüster’s review of “In the Dutch Mountains,” published on Saturday, in which she wrote that spectators would feel like they’re either “going insane” or “being killed by boredom,” felt like another personal attack, he said. When he saw her that evening at the Hanover State Opera, he said, he was shocked and could not understand her presence.

The pair had a tense discussion, in which he recalled saying, “‘What you are writing about me, you would not want to hear about you?” When she did not respond positively, he rubbed the feces in her face.

Ms. Hüster said in an interview this week she reviewed dance to draw people into the art form and never went to a show hoping to be disappointed. “I’m not a masochist,” she said.

Mr. Goecke’s views on criticism appear to have some support in Europe’s dance world. Jiri Kylian, a Czech choreographer and former artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater, said in an email he would not make “any specific statements concerning Marco Goecke’s unfortunate affair.” But he had views on the “troublesome relationship between creators and their critics,” he added.

Kylian said it was safer for critics to write negative reviews as then they “can never be criticized” by colleagues for their bad taste. “If you write a positive one, you put your cards on the table and you can easily become a laughing stock,” he added.

It is unclear if other contemporary dance companies will keep working with Mr. Goecke. Ms. Berman said the differing reactions from the Hanover State Opera and Nederlands Dans Theater were perhaps explained by the dance world still being in shock about the incident.

“No one wants to see someone who is capable of creating such amazing dance work stop,” Ms. Berman said. “But at the same time nobody can understand what he did,” she added.

Ms. Hüster said in an email that she didn’t care what happened to him next. “I will never attend any Goecke show again,” she said: “He is not that relevant.”

For his part, Mr. Goecke said he was exhausted after the last few days and wanted to move on. But, he added, he’s “had so much applause” during his career, “If it’s over, it’s over.”

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