Choreographer Marco Goecke attacked dance critic Wiebke Hüster with dogshit. Why is he portrayed as a victim?
Last Saturday, Marco Goecke, the ballet director at the Hannover opera, smeared dogshit in dance critic Wiebke Hüster’s face. A violent incident like this—a highly celebrated choreographer attacking a critic—is unprecedented in dance history. But as shocking as the attack itself is, the reaction to it has been equally dumbfounding.
On Sunday, the Staatsoper Hannover published a statement describing an “incident” between Goecke and Hüster that had violated “the dance critic’s personal integrity.” The house regretted that “the audience was disturbed by this incident,” the statement continued, but leadership would not be rushed into a decision on this “internal personnel issue.” It wasn’t until Monday that the house decided to suspend Goecke and ban him from the Staatsoper Hannover premises.
With his attack, Goecke placed himself in a long tradition of men who try to silence women through humiliating gestures. In daily life, such behavior might begin with “Fuck you Greta” bumper stickers or sexist and racist commentary under social media posts by prominent women. From there, it escalates to physical and psychological threats, then to sexual harassment, acid attacks, femicide. The cycle of women expressing their opinions loudly, then being punished for it, is as old as the patriarchy itself.
Goecke was obviously not interested in a conversation about art with Hüster; instead, he wanted to show her that he had power over her. First, he tried to physically intimidate her, threaten her, and belittle her by using the informal second-person pronoun Du in German, although they’d never met. These are common strategies to make another person feel inferior. But the final step—smearing dogshit in Hüster’s face—is one of the most humiliating gestures imaginable. Goecke’s attack on Hüster is not “embarrassing,” as German journalist Axel Brüggemann wrote recently, because the choreographer didn’t smear a symbolic object like a poster: Goecke attacked a person. It’s not “embarrassing”; it’s violent and inhumane.
In an interview with a local radio station, Hüster said that she stayed calm during the conversation with Goecke. When he came up to her and blocked her path, she remembered thinking, “‘I’m sure he’s angry, but he has the right to a conversation with me.’ So I stood there, calm and relaxed, because I had nothing to feel guilty for. I panned the piece, but it wasn’t a personal attack; it wasn’t unfair, exaggerated, ironic or cynical. That’s not my approach.”