SOUTH African Mzansi Ballet will this year receive business advice from master of business administration (MBA) candidates studying at the second-highest-ranked business school in the world.
The section 21 ballet company, based at the Joburg Theatre, was established after a merger between the South African Ballet Theatre and Mzansi Productions in mid-2012 but, as staff members have admitted, has struggled to market its shows and make ballet more accessible to Johannesburg residents.
Section 21 companies are registered to provide services, not for gain.
Last year’s Financial Times index of the top 100 business schools worldwide ranked Harvard Business School in the US second behind Stanford Graduate School of Business.
As part of their studies on business opportunities in emerging markets, six Harvard MBA students have been conducting "field immersion experiences" involving South African Mzansi Ballet.
Sandra Sucher, professor in managing practice at Harvard, said the students would try to find ways of improving the marketing of the ballet company and making the classic dance form more accessible to locals.
"South Africa is a warm and exciting country … There is opportunity for growth of businesses and opportunity for those businesses to bring services to people who never had them before," Prof Sucher said.
The students spend two weeks in Johannesburg and the rest of the year working on their project in Boston, Massachusetts, where the business school is based.
Dirk Badenhorst, CEO of the ballet company, said the "unique and diverse" people at the company would benefit from the Harvard students’ business knowledge.
Craig Kessler, one of the students, said his group was inspired by the communal culture of the ballet staff and, among other ideas, would like to involve ballerinas who had until now been geographically excluded from working for the company.
Iain MacDonald, artistic director at the ballet company, welcomed the marketing assistance the students would provide.
"The students came here and spoke to people of all lifestyles and learnt from them," he said. "They got an objective view and realised that people would love to experience ballet, but many didn’t know where to find it or how to get to it."
South African Mzansi Ballet will receive a final presentation with ideas for new products and services and be recognised for its participation in the programme on the Harvard Business School website.
Brand SA CEO Miller Mathola said he welcomed the initiative and the opportunities it presented for the ballet company to grow.
"This bold project confirms South Africa’s global competitiveness in ballet and other performing arts," he said. "We wish this visionary project well, more so since the arts can play a pivotal role in social cohesion and nation-building."
South African Mzansi Ballet will hold a Don Quixote open day at its Braamfontein studio on February 16.