Circus opens in Connecticut without incident

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson addresses the audience in Hartford, Connecticut, before the opening of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus on Thursday, May 9, 2014.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opened in Hartford with a rousing ovation for the group of acrobats injured during an aerial performance last weekend in Rhode Island.

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson addressed the accident as he spoke to fans on Thursday shortly after the circus opened its eight-show run in Connecticut's capital. He thanked the circus crew and first responders for their efforts, and thanked the crowd for its support.

"Our young ladies are recovering, they're in great spirits," he said as the crowd roared with approval. "They want us to let you know, and I quote, they feel your prayers, they feel your thoughts, they feel your concerns."

The women were injured during a stunt Sunday in Providence in which they hung by their hair from a frame as a "human chandelier." A clip securing the frame to the rafters snapped, sending them plummeting about 20 feet to the ground.

During a news conference earlier Thursday, circus spokesman Stephen Payne said federal health and safety inspectors and circus officials have not identified why that clip failed.

Seven acrobats remain hospitalized, two in serious condition. The others are in fair conditions and three have asked that their medical conditions not be made public. One of the injured acrobats was released Tuesday.

Members of the Feld family released an open letter to the people of Providence on Friday, saying they've been deeply touched by their support. Feld Entertainment is Ringling's parent company.

"Now more than ever, Providence will hold a special place in our hearts. We deeply appreciate your continued thoughts, prayers and support, and we look forward to bringing Ringling Bros. and Barnum &Bailey back to Providence next year and for many years to come," the letter said.

The Felds also thanked first responders and the medical staff at Rhode Island Hospital, where the injured performers are being treated.

The aerial stunt won't be replaced "at this time," Nicole Feld said Thursday. "We'll look and see how the recovery process goes," she said.

As the circus officials spoke, lionesses, tigers and a leopard could be heard roaring and growling in an area behind a curtain.

A rehearsal will "smooth the transitions" between acts to make sure the show runs smoothly without the hair-hanging act, Feld said.

Asked if a net might be used in the future, Payne said that because the act went up and down, "We're not entirely sure a net would have really added any safety feature."

Iverson said first responders in Providence "may have saved a life or two."

Payne said the margin for safety for the performance was satisfactory. "We feel that our safety standards are impeccable," he said.

Thursday's show went off without incident.

NBC 10 News contributed to this report.