Last Saturday, German choreographer Marco Goecke smeared feces from his dachshund on the face of dance critic Wiebke Hüster. His justification was because Hüster had published her negative review of the premiere of Goecke's In the Dutch Mountains that same day in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
In the review, Hüster wrote that the work was "disjointed" and audiences would “go insane and be killed by boredom while watching” the show. Goecke—who has said that over two decades, Hüster has positively reviewed only two of his works—points to several reasons for the anger which drove his actions: how the performing arts are still struggling to regain their pre-pandemic audiences and negative reviews hurts institutions, his belief that Hüster has attempted to damage his career, and a belief that reactions would be different if his and Hüster's genders were reversed.
His actions caused shockwaves through the arts world with headlines cropping up internationally (The Guardian has even published their own critics' worst experiences of artists' rebuttals). Goecke, who was the ballet director at Hannover Opera House but has since been let go from his job, has said that he hopes to ignite a debate about how art criticism should be conducted, and wants to change the relationship between artist and critic. His objection, per Alex Marshall's reporting for The New York Times, is that critics are allowed to write in "a personal and hateful way." Goecke says he believes in constructive criticism, and in reviews where “nobody gets hurt.”
Recalled Hüster to the Daily Beast, she had been at the Hannover Opera House when Goecke came up to her: “He starts talking and he said, ‘No one should have let you in! Why are you here? No one should have let you in. You are always writing these bad personal reviews of me.’ ... I was telling him ‘no, my words are not personal. It’s not about you as a person. I see a big talent in you… I didn’t get to explain it to him because at that moment he pulled out the open poop bag out of his jacket and stuffed it in my face, brutally.”
While Goecke's actions remain unjustifiable, it appears to be an escalation of a larger trend which has begun to take shape in recent years: artists firing back to their critics.
In 2018, Ben Brantley's review of Broadway's Head Over Heels for The New York Times spoke about star Bonnie Milligan in language that led to accusations of body shaming—he called Milligan (who is a full-figured) "provocatively cast" in the role of a love interest. Brantley also called identified the Peppermint, a trans actor, as "her — I mean them." Milligan promptly responded on Twitter, “I dream of a world filled with love and respect and inclusion...with Correct pronouns and 'provocatively cast' women 'trampling' stereotypes," and has since continued to lead that change onstage. Following additional outcry about the review, Brantley publicly apologized and corrected his article.
Following Jesse Green's review of Broadway's KPOP last year in which he referred to Jiyoun Chang's lighting design as "squint-inducing," among other assertions, the show's producers responded with a request for apology for the review's "casual racism." Tonya Pinkins also called out the New York Times critic for his review of The Public Theater's A Raisin in the Sun last fall. In an open letter, she asserted that Green's response was marked by misogynoir, "the anti-Black racist misogyny that Black women experience."
Since the fecal matter incident, Goecke has left his job at Hannover Opera House "by mutual agreemen,t" according to the opera house's Artistic Director Laura Berman. He has also been charged with assault, and reportedly apologized (though some have criticized his apology as being disingenuous). Goecke's actions and departure have not resulted in the removal of Goecke's works from the upcoming schedule of performances. Berman's belief is that while Goecke's actions are inexcusable, his work should be considered separately, telling the New York Times, "I do not believe in cancel culture."