PETALING JAYA: Radhanath Thialan was five when he stepped into a local ballet studio. He was a shy boy and there were no other boys in the class, but he enjoyed it so much that he didn’t care.
“I grew up in a strict, religious household in Puchong, with a dad who was the decision maker and always had the last word. Dancing was not supposed to be anywhere near my world, especially being a boy,” he recalled with a tinge of sadness.
Radhanath, or Rad as he is called, became the cause of several family arguments over his passion for dancing, although he was a straight As student.
His mum, an Australian-trained accountant, backed him; his entrepreneur father, who came from a poor family, was totally against his dancing dreams as did most middle class Indian Malaysian families who prefer their children to achieve success and social standing as doctors or engineers.
Rad, however, was inspired by the sense of freedom that ballet imparted – “the freedom to do what I desired, to express my feelings and to tell stories with the movements of my body, which I could not do at home”, he told FMT in a phone interview from California in the US, where he is now based.
He is now enjoying international success at the age of 26, a sharp contrast to his first successful performance at kindergarten, when he was six.
“In the car heading home after my first recital, there was an awkward silence. Obviously, my dad was extremely upset. At around midnight, my brother and I were awakened by the sound of my parents arguing,” he said.
“All I could hear were the words, Boys should not dance! My parents did not speak to each other the next day, and my mum said we would not go for ballet classes any more.”
And that’s when he began an eight-year secret life of ballet lessons behind his father’s back, abetted by his mother, siblings and dance teacher.
“I was angry and my relationship with him turned sour,” he said. But finally, at the age of 16, Rad decided to tell his father what he had been doing.
“He said that if I wanted to dance, I should only dance for God, such as by learning the Indian classical dance Bharatanatyam or Odissi, as the famous Ramli Ibrahim did.
“He also said dancing would also affect my studies negatively and eventually would be a bad influence. I was angry and wanted to prove him wrong,” said Rad, who successfully took up Bharatanatyam and also excelled in his studies.
In 2014, Rad took up a business degree at a community college in Arizona, and also auditioned for a dance event. “I was offered a partial scholarship for dance, so I could have a double major without my dad’s knowledge.”
When he finally told his father, they had a very long conversation that night, “and he said he was able to see my love for dance and he appreciated that”.
It had taken 14 years to turn his dad around.
He has not looked back, going on to win accolades for his choreography and dance performances. He founded his own dance company and is also the associate artistic director for a successful dance academy.
Although he has been away from home for more than seven years, the Malaysian in him comes out in his choreography. “My main style is contemporary concert dance, often inspired by relatable human matters and my Malaysian Identity. My works tend to encourage viewers to think beyond the works but reflect upon society,” he said.
His choreography placed Yaya Dance Academy first at a mainstream dance competition last year, and his own academy received a “best studio” award.
A highlight of his dance career was being the choreographer for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra’s spring festival concert for three years.
He is now working on a dance documentary project highlighting dance artists of Malaysia with film director Ee Theng, writer FangNing Lim and a group of artists in California.
His work has also taken him to Shanghai and Israel. “As far as I am concerned, passion will take you anywhere you want to go,” he said.